SAN FRANCISCO — The association representing shipping lines on Friday locked out longshoremen at all West Coast ports until Sunday morning as contract negotiations with the dock worker’s union deteriorated into a labor disruption that will immediately curtail the flow of Asian goods across the United States.
The announcement of the 36-hour “cooling-off period” came after the Pacific Maritime Association accused the longshoremen’s union of slowing down the pace of work to gain leverage in increasingly acrimonious talks.
The association’s board met Friday morning and unanimously agreed to shutter the ports from 6 p.m. PDT until 8 a.m. Sunday PDT.
The disruption could deal an immediate blow to the U.S. economy and stanch the flow of products from the Pacific Rim just as importers are rushing to distribute goods for the holiday season. The association has said that a coastwide labor disruption could cost the economy around $1 billion per day. West Coast ports handle more than $300 billion in imports and exports each year.
The Bush administration urged both sides to resolve the dispute, but said it would not intervene to keep the docks open.
“At this point, we are hopeful the two parties will come back to the bargaining table in good faith,” Department of Labor spokeswoman Sue Hensley said. “We are monitoring this very closely.”
Word of the lockout prompted the head of the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service to fly to San Francisco, where both sides have been engaged in steadily deteriorating talks.
Association president Joseph Miniace called the lockout “a very, very tough decision,” but one that shipping lines and terminal operators had to make because of provocations from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“It’s the very last thing we wanted to do,” Miniace said. “But the union forced us into this.”
A union spokesman said the association was acting alone and that union negotiators wanted to keep talking. The union learned of the lockout when the two sides met for talks and association negotiators launched into a tirade, union President James Spinosa said.
“Miniace showed the same disrespect for the union he has since the beginning of these talks,” Spinosa said. “He is unilaterally taking the action of closing all ports and bears full responsibility for its effects on the American economy.”
Every day the ports are shut takes about a week for kinks and backlogs in the supply to get worked out, according to Robin Lanier, whose West Coast Waterfront Coalition represents importers and exporters.