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Dock Talks Break Off

Talks aimed at settling the labor dispute at West Coast ports have broken off indefinitely as a lockdown enters its second week. The union representing dockworkers says it is rejecting the latest contract proposal from manufacturers.

A spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association confirms that talks broke off shortly before midnight when the PMA offered a “comprehensive proposal.” PMA spokesman Steve Sugerman says the rejected proposal would have made the workers “the highest blue-collar workers in America.”

The latest offer would give union members a pay increase, complete health care coverage, and a $1 billion increase to the union’s pension plan. The PMA also offered to reopen the West Coast ports if the union agreed to a 90-day contract extension as both parties work out the new deal. In a letter to union president James Spinosa on Sunday, PMA President Joseph Miniace said, “It is time to settle this contract dispute. Let’s open the port tomorrow. It´s time to put the nation’s interests ahead of ours.”

A growing number of industry groups are calling for White House intervention. They’re urging President Bush to use the Taft-Hartley Act, which would force an 80-day cooling off period. Bush hasn’t said whether he would intervene. Meanwhile, the number of cargo vessels stranded at the docks or backing up at anchor points is rising to 200. Dozens more are still en route from Asia. Processing facilities across the country are crammed with produce that can’t be exported. With nowhere to move their products, plant operators may also shut down and layoffs will follow.