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West Coast Seaports Mostly Shut Down Amid Labor Dispute

/ Source: Associated Press

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All was quiet at the West Coast's major seaports. And that's not a good thing.

Workers weren't unloading ships from Asia carrying car parts, dresses, furniture and electronics. They weren't loading containers to carry U.S. exports, either. The 29 ports that handle about one-quarter of U.S. international trade were all but shut down Thursday amid a contract dispute that could hit all Americans in the wallet if it becomes protracted.

The partial lockout is the result of an increasingly damaging labor dispute between dockworkers' and their employers. The two sides have been negotiating a new contract, and paralysis at the bargaining table is all but paralyzing the ports that handle around $1 trillion worth of cargo annually.

The 15 ships scheduled to arrive Thursday at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, by far the nation's largest complex, will join a trail of about 20 others anchored off the coast, awaiting berths at the docks to clear. There are clusters of ships outside the ports of Oakland, and Seattle and Tacoma in Washington.

The Southern California slots weren't opening Thursday. The ships occupying them were being idled because companies that operate marine terminals did not call dockworkers to operate the towering cranes which hoist containers of cargo on and off ships.

The berths won't clear Saturday, Sunday or Monday either.

The last contract bargaining session was Friday, nearly a week ago. Negotiations were to resume Wednesday in San Francisco, but were canceled despite heavy — and increasing — pressure from elected officials and businesses to reach a deal. The two sides rescheduled for Thursday. Talks have stalled over how to arbitrate future workplace disputes. Some of the biggest issues, including health care, have been resolved with tentative agreements.

IN-DEPTH

-- The Associated Press and NBC News Staff

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