LOS ANGELES – The labor movement reacted with outrage to George W. Bush’s decision to invoke the unionbusting Taft-Hartley Act to end an employer lockout of the West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). It was the first use of the law against the union since Richard Nixon invoked it in 1971 to interrupt a strike.

Calling Bush’s action “a tragedy with historic ramifications,” AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka said, “This is the first time in the history of the United States that a President has let an employer lock out workers … creating a phony crisis and then reward that employer’s action with government intervention.”

Trumka added, “It is not only a tragedy but an outrage that the decision by the White House to intervene came even though the PMA had just rejected the Bush administration’s call to end their lock out of dockworkers … and extend the workers’ contract for 30 days while bargaining continues.”

A U.S. District Court order calls for an 80-day “cooling-off” period. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) will reopen the 29 West Coast ports they closed on Sept. 27, idling 10,500 workers. “These 80 days will not be a ‘cooling off period,’” said ILWU International President James Spinosa. “PMA will start alleging ‘slowdowns’ … we expect the employers will be dragging us to court daily, trying to bankrupt the union and throw our leaders in jail.”

Kees Marges, the secretary of the dockworkers section of the International Transportation Workers Federation, is calling for an emergency meeting of longshore unions worldwide. He said, “The interference of the U.S. President in labor relations which strips the ILWU of their right to strike is a day which will forever be remembered as one of the black days in the history of the entire global waterfront.”

Ken Riley, president of Local 1422 of the International Longshoremen’s Association in Charleston, S.C., said, “This sets a dangerous stage for what we will encounter in our negotiations. … The next 90 days are crucial as far as all of labor is concerned. I believe that this employer-Bush scheme will backfire and further galvanize labor in the upcoming elections and the fight for workers’ rights overall.”

Joseph Miniace, the PMA’s CEO and main orchestrator of the anti-union scenario, said PMA “regrets” that Taft-Hartley was invoked. But Steve Stallone, ILWU communications director, challenged that.

Stallone told the World that the ILWU received a request from the Bush administration for a 30-day contract extension at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, Oct. 6. They were told by the President’s representative, Eugene Scalia, that the PMA agreed to it. The union met and agreed to the request. Scalia then reported that the PMA bailed out of the deal.

“The PMA has schemed for this intervention from day one including months of lobbying prior to sitting at the negotiating table in May and ever since,” Stallone said. “The lockout was their blackmailing ace in the hole. Now for 80 days the employers and Bush will use Taft-Hartley provisions to take free shots at the union while the lives of workers and the future of the union will be at stake.”

Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers, said, the Taft-Hartley injunction “is an especially bad idea when carried out by a president who has tried repeatedly to limit – and even eliminate – the right of workers to join unions and bargain collectively. … This does nothing to enhance the Bush administration’s credibility as a truly neutral arbitraror in the matter.”

Gary Smith, International Brotherhood of Teamsters West Coast Port Division director, said, “The Teamsters have long considered Taft-Hartley a slave labor law which forces workers to give up the only bargaining tool they have, their right to strike. We will join the ILWU in demanding safety. We have already made clear we will not accept any attempts by the California Trucking Association to relax safety standards because of a crisis created by a PMA screw-up.”

The PMA is calling for “normal levels” of productivity, which is a “physical impossibility” after two weeks of clogged docks have created a “logistical nightmare” says the ILWU. “It will be impossible to fill all terminals and fill all orders with a full complement of workers.”

The ILWU is concerned about the safety of its members as a result. During the last six months, five workers have been killed on the job because of PMA speed-up policy. “We are tired of burying our people,” Spinosa said. “All PMA President Joe Miniace ever talks about is how many containers get moved how fast. You never hear him cite statistics of the deaths and injuries, of the human toll of his profits.”

At press time, the AFL-CIO strategy team was meeting to adopt a national action plan. Jerry Acosta, Western Region Deputy Director of the AFL-CIO, told the World that the AFL-CIO is now calling on mayors and governors of West Coast ports to form blue ribbon commissions to oversee safety at the docks. The AFL-CIO is also calling for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assign inspectors to insure the safety of the workers.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com