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Bush to Stop Longshoremen's Dispute

Aired October 8, 2002 - 13:14   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm told we have breaking news coming from the White House, our John King live from there with regards to the West Coast port shutdown.
John, what can you tell us?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, CNN is told that President Bush about 2 1/2 hours from now, at 4:00 Eastern time, will announce that he is, for the first time in a quarter century, a president invoking his authority under so-called Taft- Hartley Law, the president will intruct the attorney general to go to court in San Francisco, ask for a court injunction; that would implement an 80-day cooling off period and force the parties back to work, ending that labor impasse at 29 West Coast ports that is costing the U.S. economy an estimated $2 billion a day.

The president will take this extraordinary action just hours after receiving a four-page report from a special federal board of inquiry he appointed just yesterday, that board reporting back to the president today it has met with both parties, that it views issues as intractable, saying the two parties cannot even agree on a temporary contract arrangement for a period of several days or weeks, even though they know that their impasse is costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars a day.

So the president will announce this afternoon that he is asking the attorney general to go to court to end impasse under the Taft- Hartley Law. An 80-day cooling off period would be ordered by a federal injunction. The two parties would meet with a federal mediator during that period. But most importantly from the administration's view, they would have to go back to work in the meantime -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: John, what's the sense? Will this work? Going back to 1971, Richard Nixon had to step in, deal with the same type of situation. Did it work for him?

KING: What the president is trying to do is get to it work in the short term, try to force the parties to the negotiating table in the meantime. What the board told the president in its report, the board of inquiry, that there is no end in sight to this dispute; it is costing the U.S. economy $2 billion a day. Shippers and manufacturers, governments in Asia, complaining it is having a devastating impact on their economies, as well. The president's focus is on short term, stopping the bleeding, if you will, and then during that cooling off period, the federal government will try to get the parties in mediation. The report, though, Kyra, four short pages, but is says the issues between the unions and management are quite substantial, so the president's stepping in the meantime just to keep the economy up and running.

PHILLIPS: Our John King live from the White House. Thanks, John.

Cargo is still piled up on barges and West Coast docks, but it could start moving soon, now that John tells us the Bush administration is expected to ask a judge to end the lock out that has shut down the ports.

Our Jen Rogers reports now from San Francisco.

Jen, you have been getting lots of conflicting information, rumors floating around. Give us the latest from there, and what do you think to the latest news from John King?

JEN ROGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is definitely the case, a lot of back and forth today, Kyra, between the management and the union.

As John was talking, I was just on the phone with the union, talking to them about this news. They said really not a surprise to them; but they think it is counterproductive. They think it will help the situation, they said. They think this is what the PMA, the management, had wanted all along. They accused the management of basically staging this and trying to hurt the economy so they wouldn't want to negotiate with them.

Of course, that is the union's side, the PMA not commenting right now. They wanted their own official comment from the government before they would talk to us about this. But the PMA would say that yesterday they were making contingency plans in terms of the manning and what would need to happen if and when an injunction is handed down.

I did talk to the head of the PMA earlier today. He said he could see people getting back to work on the docks about one shift after the injunction is handed down. He said for work, let's say, that starts at the 6 p.m. shift today, they would have to get that injunction by 2 p.m. today to be able to get workers back on to the docks.

So again, no comment from the PMA so far. All they will say is that yesterday they were working on contingency plans.

But the union coming out saying they really feel this is counterproductive, to have the government step in here. Yesterday, talking to the union, they said even if there is this 80-day cooling off period, there really think there are a lot of issues still on the table, and wouldn't be surprised that once time expires on 80 days, we could be right back here, unless those issues are dealt with pretty quickly -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: Jen, I know you've been working a lot of different angles. I'm curious -- and I don't know how much you can tell me about this -- but back in '71 when Nixon stepped in to work on a similar situation, did that work for the president?

ROGERS: Well, it is interesting talking to some old longshoremen over at the union hall. They say the last time this was, in 1971, they didn't like it then, and they don't like it now. They really want to get the government out of it, so in their interpretation of it, no, it didn't work. And this one as well they're not sure it's going to work either.

PHILLIPS: Our Jen Rogers, in San Francisco, great job. Thanks, Jen.


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