This is Steve Emberwith the VOA Special English program In The News.
A labor dispute in the United States closed twenty-nine portsalong the West Coast at the beginning of this week. The ports areextremely important to the economy. Aboutthree-hundred-thousand-million dollars worth of goods pass throughthem every year. Half of all American imports and exports passthrough the West Coast ports. Financial experts say the closingscost the United States economy as much as one-thousand-milliondollars a day.
The Pacific Maritime Association ordered the closings. Itrepresents West Coast shipping companies and port operators. It saysport workers had been purposely and illegally slowing operations.The port owners say they would not continue to pay the workers ifthey were not going to work at full production levels.
The men and women who work at the ports are called longshoremenor dockworkers. Some of the workers load and unload ships. Otherscarry out administrative duties. The workers belong to theInternational Longshore and Warehouse Union, a powerful labor group.The shutdown of the ports forced more than ten-thousand dockworkersto stop working.
The union denies that its members had purposely slowed theirwork. It says that workers were simply following safety rules andother work terms more closely than in the past. Union officials saythey ordered the workers to do so after the deaths of fivelongshoremen this year.
The longshoremen's union and the port operators have been tryingto negotiate a new labor agreement since May. The last workagreement ended in July. Both sides say there is one majordisagreement blocking the agreement. It is a dispute over thepossible use of new technology that would speed the movement ofgoods. The port operators say the technology is needed for theirbusinesses to compete fairly. But, the union says the technologythreatens the jobs of its workers.
The closings of the ports caused more than one-hundred huge shipsto wait near the West Coast of the United States. Most of the shipsare too large to travel on the Panama Canal to get to East Coastports. The ships are filled with millions of containers of goodsfrom Asia. These include cars, electronics, sports goods, clothesand food for American stores. The ships also carry parts needed forbuilding automobiles, computers, machinery and many other products.
Some companies are considering shipping some goods by air.However, that costs about four times more than transport by sea.
On Thursday, a federal labor official began meeting withrepresentatives of the Pacific Maritime Association and theLongshore and Warehouse Union. They are trying to settle thedispute.
This VOA Special English program In The News was written by CatyWeaver. This is Steve Ember.