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LOS ANGELES — Less than 24 hours after the West Coast ports reopened, cracks appeared to be opening in the government-enforced cooling-off period between dockworkers and shipping companies.

This story first appeared in the October 11, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Cargo trickled out of ports Thursday, starting with goods that were already on truck chassis or docks when the Pacific Maritime Association shut down the ports Sept. 29.

The task is enormous, the pace was slow, and animosity crackled between dockworkers and shippers.

Reports filtered out about crane crews failing to report in Oakland, cranes moving at a fraction of their normal speed in Seattle and union dispatchers declining work orders for lack of manpower at the Long Beach-Los Angeles port complex.

Steamship company NYK shut down its Seattle pier operation Thursday after only one of a requested 24 union-jurisdiction semitrucks, which move cargo within the terminal, showed up, said a source familiar with the situation.

“Right now, I think the longshoremen are definitely doing something to try to drive their point home,” said Mark Gaimster, branch manager for freight consolidator Seattle Shipco Transport Inc. Gaimster, whose house overlooks the port of Tacoma, Wash., and who said he can “look over the port and see that things are not moving aggressively at all.”

A federal mediator is not expected to set a date for the next negotiating session between the PMA and International Warehouse and Longshore Union until next week, said an ILWU spokesman.

So far, neither party is officially accusing the other of causing problems.

“The sense I got from the night shift was that things were a little bit slow, but nothing we would call a big problem,” said a PMA spokesman.

The ILWU spokesman said he, too, was unaware of any unusual circumstances.

“It is my understanding they are filling the orders as requested,” he said.

The PMA spokesman said in the event the group has a productivity-related complaint against the ILWU, it would bring the matter first to coast arbitrator Sam Kagel, who could in turn pass it along to a federal judge or mediator.

The union, which had steadfastly denied it has ever engaged in slowdowns, could be slapped with enormous fines if a judge finds it is in violation of its 1999 labor contract.

That contract has been initially extended for seven days, but Judge William Alsup is likely to enact it for the full 80-day cooling-off period under Taft-Hartley.

Enrico Salvo, chief executive of freight forwarder Carmichael International, said work Thursday was “not entirely normal, but close. We hope tonight all the skilled people will be back on the job, so the tempo will pick up.”

Salvo has gotten a handful of containers out for his apparel clients since the ports reopened Wednesday night, after an 11-day lockout.

Tim Byler, customer service manager for freight forwarder Norman Krieger Inc., said the ports are “swamped. Everybody and their brother who has a truck is waiting in line for goods.”

Byler said for the next few days, movement will focus on perishables and on goods that were already taken off the boats before the lockout.

“In a couple of days, we’re going to really know what’s going on with the union,” Byler said. “When they work the vessels, that’s where we’ll see it.”