U.S. West Coast ports reopen as labor secretary arrives for talks

Tue Feb 17, 2015 12:24pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES Feb 17 (Reuters) - U.S. West Coast ports that were closed to incoming cargo vessels during the holiday weekend reopened in full on Tuesday as Labor Secretary Tom Perez arrived in San Francisco seeking to broker a settlement ending months of shipping disruptions.

Perez was sent to meet with the two sides in the conflict at the behest of President Barack Obama, who has come under mounting pressure to weigh in on a labor dispute that has cascaded through the U.S. commercial supply chain and beyond.

But there was no immediate word on exactly when or under what conditions he would join in talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing 20,000 dockworkers, and the bargaining agent for shipping companies and terminal operations, the Pacific Maritime Association.

Neither side has spoken about the negotiations since agreeing on Friday to honor a news blackout requested by a federal mediator. No face-to-face talks between the parties are believed to have occurred since then.

The PMA previously said the talks, which have dragged on for nine months, hit a new snag on a union demand for changes in the system of binding arbitration of contract disputes. The union has insisted the two sides are near an accord.

Operations to load and unload cargo vessels at all 29 West Coast ports were halted through the holiday weekend as of Friday night but resumed Tuesday morning, port authorities said. More than 30 freighters idled through the weekend waiting for berths to open outside the adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's two busiest cargo hubs.

It was the longest such suspension in the months-long labor dispute. Vessel operations were likewise suspended for two days last weekend, and again last Thursday, which was a union holiday.

But shippers said work at the ports continued in the dockyards, rail yards and terminal gates to move cargo already unloaded from ships.   Continued...