MEDIA WATCH: Coverage of the West Coast port dispute focuses on politics

The 10-day labor lockout that paralyzed 29 West Coast ports came to an end, at least temporarily, when President Bush imposed an 80-day cooling-off period provided for in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The law allows the federal government to prevent laborers from striking during national emergencies. Bush was the first President to invoke the law in 25 years, and it was the first time a President had used it on a management lockout rather than a worker strike.

The 10-day labor lockout that paralyzed 29 West Coast ports came to an end, at least temporarily, when President Bush imposed an 80-day cooling-off period provided for in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The law allows the federal government to prevent laborers from striking during national emergencies. Bush was the first President to invoke the law in 25 years, and it was the first time a President had used it on a management lockout rather than a worker strike.

Bush, in a speech at the White House rose garden, cited economic and national-security concerns as his reasons for involving the federal government.

Media coverage addressed the economic impact more often and, in addition to Bush, cited Judge William Alsup (who had issued the injunction), business leaders from across the country who are dependent on the ports for trade, and even the media itself.

More than half of the coverage analyzed by Media Watch carried statistics compiled by Martin Associates (on behalf of the Pacific Maritime Association) that the stoppage was costing the US economy between $1 billion and $2 billion per day.

The editorial boards at The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Long Island's Newsday all wrote in favor of Bush's move. Writing before Bush acted, the LA Times (October 8) indicated that the port closures were too damaging to the economy for Washington to let the situation continue.

Writing after Bush's move, The New York Times editorial (October 9) wrote that Bush "rightly intervened." An editorial in Newsday (October 9) stated, "The dock strike is precisely what the (Taft-Hartley) act was designed to address: a shutdown whose effects could go well beyond the industry immediately affected, rippling out into the economy at large and creating dangerous instability."

Nearly half of the coverage analyzed the political significance and the ramifications it would have. The longshoremen and their unions, which traditionally vote Democratic, were said to be furious at Bush for becoming involved and warned that they would remember his action during the upcoming congressional elections.

Bush was depicted as knowing in advance that the longshoremen would be upset, but had weighed the considerations and judged the shutdown to be too damaging to the economy and had acted accordingly. There were also several reports that pointed out that Bush is seen as weak on the economy, and interpreted this action as a way to show his leadership on the issue.

Less than half of the coverage analyzed actually discussed the original subject of the dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association trade group of shipping companies and terminal operators. Among those that did, there was no overwhelming support for or against either side on the issue of whether new technology jobs on the docks would be unionized.

While the cooling-off period will get the ports running during the elections and the holidays, there was widespread pessimism that the two sides would come to an agreement after that period ended. Several reports suggested that Taft-Hartley doesn't have a good record of resolving disputes; it just entrenches both sides into their positions.

- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.