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Labor Secretary Gets Involved In Stalled Port Talks

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And there is still no deal to report on the labor dispute that has idled ports up and down the West Coast. The White House is now involved. President Obama has sent Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to California to try to get shipping companies and the dockworkers union to agree on a deal. Work is scheduled to resume at the ports tomorrow, but a huge backlog of ships waiting to unload has businesses around the country nervous about a full-blown lockout or strike. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: It's been eight months now since labor negotiations began and the 20,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union agreed to work without a contract. In the past week, the standoff has become particularly tense with the partial port closures and both sides blaming the other for unprecedented congestion, especially here in Los Angeles. Bruce Carlton is president of the National Industrial Transportation League. It's a trade group that represents the companies that own all the cargo on the container ships.

BRUCE CARLTON: If we're looking for a one-word description of how shippers - the ultimate customers - feel about the situation up and down the West Coast ports, it's anger.

SIEGLER: A lot is on the line here economically. Ports on the West Coast handle more than a billion dollars in cargo a day. At the Port of Los Angeles, spokesman Philip Sanfield says those caught in the middle of all this want a quick resolution so they can start to address some of the broader congestion challenges.

PHILIP SANFIELD: We are the nation's largest container port, and it's been frustrating to have cargo diverted to other ports and to have the cargo piling up here at the Port of LA.

SIEGLER: There's been one good thing to come out of the weekends' partial closures, though, at least in LA. It's given the ports a chance to move all that cargo that's been piling up on the docks onto awaiting trucks and rail cars. Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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