West Coast seaports that were all but shut over the holiday weekend because of a contract dispute are reopening, as the nation's top labor official begins his efforts to solve a stalemate between dockworkers and their employers that already has disrupted billions of dollars in U.S. international trade.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez flew Monday to San Francisco and plans to meet Tuesday with negotiators for both the dockworkers' union and the maritime association, which represents shipping lines that carry cargo and port terminal operators that handle it once the ships dock.
The two sides began meeting in May, and in recent weeks their disagreements at the bargaining table have led to historically debilitating problems moving cargo through 29 seaports from Southern California to Seattle.
After a fruitless meeting Friday between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, President Barack Obama said Saturday that Perez would come west and engage in the talks, which a federal mediator has overseen since early January. Over the weekend, Perez was in touch by phone with both sides.
The ports are a critical trade link with Asia and the gateway not just for imports such as electronics, household goods and clothing but also U.S. exports including produce and meat.