Modern West Coast Ports

The weekend deal that should finally settle a long and bitter labor dispute between West Coast dockworkers and shippers illustrates the effectiveness of highly targeted government intervention, and the ability of unions to adapt practically to industry changes.

It took President Bush invoking the Taft-Hartley Act (the first time since 1978) to end a 10-day work stoppage in October and order the ports re-opened. Even that short lockout cost an estimated $1 billion a day in lost revenue, a serious pricetag for a struggling US economy.

The Justice Department helped by not pursuing claims by shippers that unions were organizing work slowdowns during the talks. That let the parties work out a deal on their own.

A mediator helped to arrange for the companies to offer wage and pension increases for six years to the longshoremen. For their part, unions agreed to lose some 400 high-paid positions so computers can be introduced to better track cargo and bring the West Coast ports up to modern international standards.

Some 10,500 union members are expected to approve the deal in an early January vote.

When the better tracking of containers is in place, it should help improve government efforts to secure the United States against would-be terrorists bringing in large weapons. Just 2 percent of containers are physically inspected, and they pass through many hands transiting the world's ports.

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