More port labor dispute talks scheduled with U.S. Labor Secretary

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KTVU) -- Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez met with leaders on both sides of the West Coast port labor dispute Tuesday, calling the meetings positive and productive.

As the port reopened Tuesday from the holiday weekend shutdown, the showdown between port operators and the longshore workers union took a new turn.

U.S. Secretary Of Labor Thomas Perez brought new urgency to contract negotiations in San Francisco, joining talks at 555 Market Street at the third floor headquarters of the Pacific Maritime Association which represents the 70 port operators..

A source told KTVU that Secretary Perez left the building about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

A short time later, the Department of Labor issued a statement saying American businesses have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

"Secretary Perez stressed that it's imperative the parties come to an immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy," the Labor Department statement read.

U.C. Berkeley labor expert Professor Harley Shaiken says the Labor Secretary could make a difference.

"He's also a very skilled attorney who has been in tough negotiations before, so he's going to bring the power of his office the power of the President and real skills to bring some compromise," Shaiken said.

Compromise has been difficult, though, with no deal after nine months of negotiations.

The irony, is that both sides appear to have agreed on the usual sticking points of pay, pension, and health care.

"The sticking point is arbitrators. They're like judges during the life of the contract, interpreting differences between management and labor," Shaiken told KTVU. Shaiken says the union wants an option at the end of each contract to get rid of any of the 4 west coast arbitrators they might consider biased.

The Labor Department says Secretary Perez put in calls to governors of Washington and California, as well as mayors of Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach.

"If he can help, he's more than welcome because this basically has to find an end to it," said Rashid Bassaid, one of the Port of Oakland's 7,000 truck drivers.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said they would hold a meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday, essentially shutting down the port.

Secretary Perez plans to meet with both sides again tomorrow.