The left blogosphere has been full of complaint about the President’s invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act to re-open the West Coast docks. As Sam Heldman summarizes the situation, the union and the shippers were at loggerheads about job protection in the face of labor-saving technological change. The union started a work-to-rule slowdown to put pressure on management. Management staged a lockout. Eugene Scalia, the Solicitor of Labor (a Bush recess appointee after the Senate made it clear he wouldn’t be confirmed) proposed a simple 30-day contract extension, which the union accepted but management rejected.

[Note: Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo notes that Scalia, in private practice, had represented the Pacific Maritime Association, the shippers’ group that staged the lockout. Marshall provides a copy of Scalia’s financial disclosure form, on which he lists PMA as a former client. I don’t know what the rules are about this, but it doesn’t smell right. And it makes it even curiouser that the the union should have accepted, and the PMA rejected, Scalia’s proposal. But maybe the PMA knew how the endgame would play out.]

Bush intervened, and got an order ending the lockout for an 80-day cooling-off period and requiring the workers to work at normal pace. [More on the legal aspects of slowdowns from Nathan Newman.. Note that “work-to-rule” simply means sticking to the letter of the existing contract. “Sanctity of contract,” anyone?]

It’s not hard to see the economic justification for reopening the ports, though whether the lockout truly threatened health and safety, as specified in the statute, is less clear. But can anyone in the right blogosphere come up with either a different statement of the facts or a justification for what appears to be an Administration tilt toward the side that (1) started the work stoppage and (2) rejected the mediator’s suggestion for ending it? Why reward stubbornness?


Jane Galt has risen to the challenge here.

My response is here.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: