Earlier this month, organized labor was handed a crushing defeat when President Bush signed a bill granting the president wide-ranging power to negotiate trade treaties without Congressional tinkering. Now, dockworkers in Seattle and along the entire West Coast are worried Bush is going after labor again by getting involved in a labor dispute involving the longshoremen's union.

Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are among those telling the administration to butt out.

Murray and Cantwell were among the eight Democratic senators who sent a letter to Bush imploring him to allow negotiations between the union and the Pacific Maritime Association to continue, even though the talks have made little progress since they began in May. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents more than 10,000 West Coast dockworkers, is threatening to walk out over disagreements about efforts to modernize port technology. Talks are currently on hiatus, but are set to resume on August 26.

The timing of the letter was meant to preempt moves being considered by the Bush administration to break any future strike by longshoremen on the West Coast. The White House has threatened to use National Guard troops to replace striking workers if the ILWU members vote to walk off the job. Bush's threat, said an ILWU spokesman, was a laughable proposition. "They were training the National Guard to drive the cranes, and to do various things, but good luck. If you don't have at least five years' experience with some of these things, you can do lots of damage," said Kandi Kandi, spokesman for ILWU Local 19 in Seattle. "You can't just overnight learn how to operate a crane."

Kandi said the administration "has already put the pressure on in various ways." Kandi cited calls to the union's leaders in California from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao warning that a strike by dockworkers would compromise national security.

Kandi expressed concern that these lobbying efforts were simply laying the groundwork for the administration to break any future strike. Under federal law, the president can intervene in a strike if it threatens the safety or health of the country--read post-September 11 ports.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels expressed his support for the union in Washington in a letter to Bush.

"We understand the administration has threatened to support the employers against the ILWU, by passing legislation restricting the ILWU's legal collective-bargaining rights and by sending in National Guard troops to take over the docks," Nickels wrote. "We are most disturbed by the administration using post- September 11 national-security concerns to intervene in the collective-bargaining process."