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By Miriam Raftery

February 15, 2015 (San Diego)--A labor dispute is causing slow-downs in ports along the West Coast.

Now President Barack Obama has announced he is sending his labor Secretary Tom Perez to California to meet with both sides and try to negotiate a settlement.

Dozens of ships are waiting offshore at ports from California to Washington state. 

Employers claim workers have intentionally slowed down off-loading cargo, an accusation denied by the union. Now  some employers are locking out dockworkers, making it impossible to offload cargo, Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile losses are piling up particularly for producers of perishable goods, such as California’s growers of citrus and other agricultural crops.  USA Today reports the American Meat Industry estimates $30 million a week in losses are occurring for meat and poultry producers.

The dockworkers contract expired back on June 30th last year, but contract negotiations since then have stalled. A key bone of contention is over efforts by management to outsource jobs inspecting tractor trailer chassis used to move cargo containers. Automation that could replace jobs is another concern of the union.

A full-fledged strike could shut down ports altogether, a situation that occurred for 10 days back in 2002,when President George W. Bush used his powers under the Taft-Hartley act to force ports to reopen.