October 3, 2002
Two lawmakers ask Bush to intervene in port dispute
LABOR: Feinstein and Issa say the president should invoke Taft-Hartley Act, requiring workers to return.
By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON — Calls for President Bush to end the West Coast port shutdown intensified Wednesday as two California lawmakers — one Republican and one Democrat — said Bush should order a return to work either immediately or within days.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said Bush should invoke the little-used
Taft-Hartley Act now. That would trigger an 80-day “cooling off” period and order both sides back to the bargaining table and union workers back to their jobs in a bid to end a management-ordered lockout of the workers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Bush should take such action “if the lockout isn’t stopped by the end of the week.”
But Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, said it would be a mistake for Bush to intervene in that manner. Harman’s district includes the Port of Los Angeles.
“I think it is important to try to avoid Taft-Hartley. I think it is
critical that the parties try to reach agreement. If they can do it
themselves, the quality of the agreement will be better and the buy-in will obviously be much bigger,” Harman said.
The White House has indicated that invoking Taft-Hartley is a
possibility. But Bush, while expressing concern about the bitter labor dispute, has not signaled that such a move is imminent.
Asked whether Bush would order an end to the shutdown, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “I am not in a position to speculate about what may or may not happen down the future.
“What’s important is that this does have the risk of impacting and
hurting the economy. And particularly at a sensitive time for the
economy like this, it is not helpful. And workers and management need to think carefully about this, and hopefully this will bring them together so an agreement can be reached,” Fleischer said.
The bipartisan call for Bush to act underscores rising concerns about
the economic damage caused by the port shutdown, the cost of which has been estimated as high as $1 billion a day.
“The dispute . . . is growing in its economic impact on the coast and is now spreading to other places throughout our nation. . . . With our nation in the economic doldrums and at the brink of war, we cannot afford to have this dispute cause further damage to our economy,” Feinstein said.
“This is a very classic example where Taft-Hartley would be
appropriate,” Issa said. “There is no issue on the table between the two parties that can justify the billion-dollar-a-day impact this work
stoppage has on the American economy; no issue that justifies the
disruption of a commercial transportation link that is vital to American manufacturers, workers and consumers.”
Spokesmen for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, the management group that ordered the lockout, could not be reached for comment.
Corporate groups hurting from the pileup of unloaded deliveries at the ports have also advocated federal intervention.
The latest call came from the American Trucking Association, which said Bush should urge the union and maritime association to adhere to the terms of their lapsed contract pending resolution of the dispute. Failing that, Bush should invoke Taft-Hartley, the trucking association said.
The last time a chief executive declared an emergency and tried to end a strike under the Taft-Hartley Act was in 1978, when President Carter intervened in a nationwide strike by coal miners. The attempt was unsuccessful because most miners ignored the order to return to work and the government did not take serious enforcement actions.
Issa said he believes both sides would honor a back-to-work order. But he added, “President Bush is no Jimmy Carter.”
“More importantly, in 1978 we were at peace and there was a question of how imminent (the economic crisis) was with coal. This time, production lines are clearly being impacted and food is rotting. There is damage every day,” Issa said.