LOS ANGELES — The chains came off and the gates of West Coast ports swung free Wednesday evening, letting hundreds of locked-out dock workers back to work — at least for now —but it will be a long time for the backlog to be alleviated.

Mandated by the Taft-Hartley Act invoked by President Bush and ordered late Tuesday in a San Francisco federal courtroom, dock workers are required to remain on the job under the terms of the expired 1999 labor contract for an 80-day cooling-off period.

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