"There will be pressure on both sides to get this done: to get in that room, negotiate a contract and get out of there without negatively impacting the economy of this country," said McKenna, whose organization represents West Coast shippers and marine terminal operators. "But you have to be prepared for something to happen."

McKenna, who will be the chief negotiator in talks with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, expects a new health care package and work hours to be some of the main sticking points when negotiations start up in March.

Earlier this year, both sides agreed to start talk in March, four months before the six-year contract expires and two months earlier than usual. They have said they want to avoid the tumult that plagued negotiations in 2002, when workers at the West Coast ports were locked out of their jobs for 10 days, costing the economy as much as $1 billion per day.

But McKenna said the companies he represents viewed the previous negotiations as successful and will stand their ground next year. The 2002 contract resulted in a union concession that allowed the port to begin using new software that tracks cargo.

"I think if you talked to my member companies, they'd tell you that the action taken and the results achieved in 2002 were well worth it," he said.

The union, likewise, is gearing up for a contentious negotiating session, and also expects health care to be a major issue.

"The union has agreed to sit down and talk before the contract expires and if the companies are reasonable we should be able to have an agreement before the contract expires," said Craig Merrilees, the ILWU's communications director. "That's what the union hopes to achieve, but we're going to be prepared if the companies aren't reasonable."

Express Service

Starting next month, travelers will have new options when flying to Monterey, Fresno and Reno.

ExpressJet Airlines, a regional carrier operated by Houston-based ExpressJet Holdings Inc., announced last week it will launch service from Long Beach to the three cities beginning Nov. 11.

The airline said it will offer two daily, non-stop flights to each city, and tickets will cost about $60 each. Formerly owned by Continental Airlines Inc., ExpressJet has operated independently since April.

Staff reporter Richard Clough can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 251, or at rclough@labusinessjournal.com .

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