(Aug. 21) SAN FRANCISCO — Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association are moving along once again, albeit slowly, following a two-week break and the death of the father of ILWA president James Spinosa.

The news of his passing cut short talks that had just begun anew on Aug. 13 after a break that was called the week of July 29.

Talks ended again on Aug. 15 with the union calling for another break until Aug. 26. The current contract is renewed every 24 hours while talks are suspended.

Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., has gotten involved with the talks. The Bush administration recently convened a task force comprised of members of the Commerce, Labor, Transportation and Homeland Security departments working to help prevent a dockworker strike.

Transport Topics magazine reported that government officials are prepared to step in and block a work slowdown or a strike if negotiations fail.

The government has watched the negotiations and has spoken with both sides in considering its options. No definitive plans for stopping a strike have been announced.

In recent days, there has been talk of a work slowdown. The association members are threatening to lock dockworkers out if such a slowdown occurs.

Negotiations have stalled over benefits and the use of new technology in the ports.

The association wants to bring in tracking technology that could cut shipping times dramatically. The union fears the technology would lead to cuts in jobs.

The association represents 12 ports along the West Coast, including ports in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Port Hueneme, Calif.; and Seattle. The ports handle several million metric tons of refrigerated cargo each year.

Bananas are a major import item through the Hueneme and Los Angeles ports, with more than 18 million cartons a year going through Hueneme alone.

The Associated Press reported that a recent study by Stephen Cohen, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said a strike could cost the U.S. economy as much as $19 billion.