With the West Coast dockworker contract running out next year, representatives of shipping lines vowed Tuesday that there would be no repeat of the disastrous labor dispute in 2002, which shut down West Coast ports for 11 days, pushed business to competing ports and cost the U.S. economy an estimated $15 billion, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The next contract should be negotiated early and resolved by the end of this year, several months before the current agreement expires, said Jim McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents the shipping lines. McKenna, speaking at an industry conference in Long Beach, said that an agreement was necessary to send a message that the 27 West Coast ports were ready for the next surge in cargo.

"Impeding commerce will be viewed as intolerable," McKenna said, noting the intervention of President Bush, who invoked the Taft Hartley Act to bring the last labor battle to an end. "Now, people understand the importance of the ports to the national economy. The closer we come to the end of this contract without an agreement, the more the phone lines from Washington to us will be burning up."

There was no immediate response from the 15,000-member International Longshore & Warehouse Union to the unusual call for early contract discussions, and a statement from union headquarters in San Francisco made it clear that the union wouldn't be rushed.

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