West Coast ports, closed to incoming cargo vessels during this week’s three-day holiday weekend, reopened on Tuesday as Labor Secretary Tom Perez arrived in San Francisco and spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with leaders from the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Perez was joined by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for meetings with the parties as they continue to work toward a resolution.

Secretary Perez was sent to meet with the two sides in the conflict at the behest of President Barack Obama, who has come under mounting pressure to intervene in a labor dispute that has cascaded through the U.S. commercial supply chain and beyond.

It has been reported that Secretary Perez yesterday gave the ILWU and PMA a deadline of today (Friday) to conclude their negotiations or the talks will move to Washington, D.C.  Shifting the stage to “the shadow of the White House will place immense pressure on these parties to resolve an issue that is being underscored an being of national importance,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Although the White House has held back for months from getting directly involved in talks between PMA and the ILWU, this latest move by Perez appears to be an effort by the White House to ratchet up pressure on both sides.  Secretaries Perez and Pritzker this week stressed the importance of reaching an immediate agreement before the dispute causes further economic damage. “Global trade is vital to the strength of the U.S. economy, with exports of U.S. goods and services reaching a record $2.35 trillion in 2014 and supporting 11.3 million American jobs. The administration will continue to work with both parties, in addition to business leaders, workers, and elected officials as talks continue,” a press release said.  Perez stressed that is it imperative for both sides to come to an “immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy and further pain for American workers and their employers.”

No further information is available at this time from Secretary Perez’s office, and the bargaining parties are operating under a media blackout.   However, those close to the negotiations say it appears still that the arbitrator issue remains as the latest sticking point, as well as work rules.

Labor law experts said Obama has few other options at his disposal to spur a settlement in the contract negotiations.  “It could be a message from the White House, that the threat of  a Taft-Hartley is looming,” said Mark Szakonyi, an editor at the Journal of Commerce, who has been closely following the labor negotiations.  Officially, the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, allows the president to get involved in labor disputes.  However, there would have to be either a strike or a lockout for President Obama to invoke it.

The last time contract talks led to a full shutdown of the West Coast ports was in 2002, when the port employers locked out port workers for 10 days because of what they called a union slowdown.  The lockout was lifted under a court order sought by President George W. Bush under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.  The two sides went on to clinch a deal in the ensuing “cooling-off” period, but the shipping industry has estimated the 2002 lockout caused $15.6 billion in U.S. economic losses. Invoking Taft-Hartley under current circumstances would require President Obama to convince a federal judge that there was a work stoppage – not just a slowdown – stemming from a labor dispute and that it posed a national emergency, rather than an inconvenience to industry.