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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Intervenes in Port Lockout

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush intervened in the West Coast port lockout Monday with a board of inquiry, a potential first step toward ordering dock workers back to their jobs, two administration officials said.

The board is to make a quick assessment of the economic damage of the labor dispute and determine whether the two sides are negotiating in good faith.

Bush is forming the board under the Taft-Hartley Act, hours after talks broke down between the union and management Sunday night.

By one estimate, the lockout, which has entered a second week, is costing the American economy $2 billion per day, complicating Bush's efforts at economic recovery. The board will measure the economic harm and determine whether both sides are negotiating in good faith.

The move could be a first step toward ordering workers back onto the job under Taft-Hartley. But some senior officials take a dim view of forcing the workers back to work, because the 1947 law has a poor record of success.

Talks between workers and managers broke down late Sunday night after the union rejected the latest contract proposal in a dispute that has shut down 29 West Coast ports and sapped billions from the economy.

After the International Longshore and Warehouse Union rejected the offer, talks in San Francisco broke off indefinitely at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, said Steve Sugerman, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association.

The negotiations came to a halt after administration officials said over the weekend that they saw signs of progress.

A call to union president James Spinosa was not immediately returned early Monday.

The board will make a determination within a matter of days.

Bush then would have to make his case in federal court, asking for a ruling to end the lockout for an 80-day cooling-off period because the dispute is "imperiling the national health or safety."

The White House has already gotten involved in the lockout by offering mediation. Both sides accepted last week.

The Taft-Hartley Act has not been invoked since former President Jimmy Carter failed to win a 1978 injunction he sought against coal miners.

Administration officials say the cooling-off period has rarely worked to end labor disputes, and Bush's political advisers fear invoking the act would energize the Democratic Party's labor base in the run-up to November's critical midterm elections for both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

However, the same officials say a cooling-off period would delay the economic fallout until after the Christmas holidays.