LOS ANGELES — A group of California legislators urged the Bush administration Friday to stay out of stalled negotiations between shippers and West Coast dockworkers.
At a state legislative hearing convened in Wilmington, near the Port of Los Angeles, various state and federal representatives urged the Bush administration to respect the collective bargaining rights of members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“The White House ought to be very concerned when the Legislature of the fifth largest economy in the world is concerned about federal intervention,” state Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Los Angeles, said after the hearing. “It could affect our economy and the national economy.”
The Bush administration met with both sides this spring and has been monitoring negotiations and exploring federal intervention strategies, including the possible use of the Navy to operate the ports during a labor disruption.
Alarcon, chairman of the state Senate’s Labor and Industrial Relations committee, said using inexperienced Navy personnel to run the docks would pose a risk to national security.
A more likely option would be for Bush to declare a national economic emergency, forcing a strike delay for 80 days. The last time such authority was invoked under the Taft-Hartley Act was 1978, when President Carter unsuccessfully tried to end a national coal strike.
Economists warn that with some $260 billion worth of goods — or more than 7 percent of the gross domestic product — moving through West Coast ports each year, a labor disruption could badly injure the nation’s sputtering economic recovery.
The ILWU’s labor contract expired July 1 and members have been working under 24-hour extensions ever since. The two sides have met for less than 54 hours since talks began in May, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippers and stevedores.
The next round of discussions is scheduled to begin Aug. 26.
ILWU officials say the talks have been undermined by White House support for management.
But the PMA, which attended the Friday hearing, said the White House has made it clear to PMA negotiators that they are on their own and that they must make some concessions to reach an agreement as soon as possible.