West Coast port employers to cut weekend shifts amid contract talks with dockworkers' union

Companies that handle cargo at West Coast seaports say they will hire far fewer workers this weekend, the latest escalation in a labor dispute with dockworkers that threatens to shut down ports vital to U.S. trade with Asia.

The association representing port terminal operators said Friday its members would not hire crane drivers to move containers on and off massive ocean-going ships. Instead, employers could order smaller crews to clear already-unloaded containers from congested dockside yards.

Earlier this week, the Pacific Maritime Association warned that without a new contract, employers would lock out all workers as early as Monday.

A lockout would shutter 29 ports that handle about one-quarter of the nation's international trade.

Meanwhile, contract negotiators for the association and dockworkers' union met Friday in San Francisco.