Labor Secretary sent to Bay Area to help resolve Port labor talks

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) -- The Secretary of Labor was expected to attend negotiations in San Francisco Tuesday in an attempt to break the stalemate between West Coast port operators and the longshore workers union.

The four-day shutdown of 29 West Coast ports on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday has made the backlog of cargo worse. 

The labor dispute is in its ninth month, as negotiations drag on between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents about 20,000 dock workers, and the Pacific Maritime Association's 70 port operators.

"You've got shopkeepers who can't get goods to put onto shelves," said Mike Zampa, a Port of Oakland spokesman, "You've got businesses that are laying off employees and talking about shutdowns because cargo is stranded."

Port operators and the longshore workers union have been silent since Friday, when the federal mediator asked for a news blackout.

On Saturday, President Obama asked the U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to intervene. Sources tell KTVU that Perez is expected to meet with both sides in San Francisco Tuesday.

The West Coast crisis is reaching other parts of the nation. A North American spokesman for Honda, Chris Abbruzzese, told KTVU that Honda shut down production lines at six plants Monday, due to a lack of components that are shipped in from Asia through West Coast ports.

"We are now experiencing parts shortages at our auto operations in Ohio, Indiana and Canada and that's impacting our regular production," Abbruzzese told KTVU. 

He says the plants will reduce operations to 50% production the rest of the week and shut down production lines again next Monday.

Subaru, which has a plant in Indiana, is reportedly spending nearly $60 million a month to transport auto parts by plane to its production lines.

Port of Oakland officials say the larger risk is losing jobs if shippers decide to avoid the West Coast altogether and move business elsewhere. Zampa says an estimated 70,000 jobs depend on the Port of Oakland, including about 7,000 truck operators.

"They can go to Mexican ports, they can go to Canadian ports, they can go through the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal," Zampa told KTVU, "When you have disruptions and delays that we've experienced all over the West Coast for the past nine months, shippers begin to look for alternatives."

Longshore workers are expected to be called back to work about 8 or 9 a.m. Tuesday.