UPDATE 4-U.S. labor secretary joins talks in West Coast ports dispute

Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:39am EST
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(Adds U.S. Labor Department statement; more on automaker impacts)

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES Feb 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Tuesday urged shipping company executives and union leaders for 20,000 dockworkers to settle a contract dispute that has led to months of clogged cargo traffic and other disruptions at 29 West Coast ports.

Perez was sent to join the talks in San Francisco by President Barack Obama, who has come under mounting pressure to intervene in the labor conflict that has rippled through the commercial supply chain across the Pacific and by some estimates could ultimately cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

His arrival came as several of the busiest West Coast ports, closed to incoming cargo freighters during the three-day holiday weekend, reopened in full for about nine hours on Tuesday, then suspended vessel loading and unloading again for the night.

Perez met separately with each party, then met briefly with both sides together, and further sessions were expected on Wednesday, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

"Secretary Perez made clear that the dispute has led to a very negative impact on the U.S. economy, and further delay risks tens of thousands of jobs and will cost American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars," Labor Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement at day's end.

Perez urged the parties "to come to an immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy," she said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing 20,000 dockworkers, and the bargaining agent for shippers and terminal operators, the Pacific Maritime Association, have declined public comment since agreeing last Friday to honor a news blackout requested by a federal mediator.   Continued...