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THE PORT SETTLEMENT

Dockhands Hoping Accord Brings Stability

Weary after months of uncertainty and slowdowns stemming from contract battle, union members, others look forward to steady work.

November 25, 2002|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

At Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles on Sunday, a group of workers gathered to unload two ships docked at Pier 400. But a load already had been taken off their minds.

Weary after months of uncertainty surrounding their jobs, dockhands at the port expressed relief that a tentative labor deal announced late Saturday night might bring them a measure of security and wage increases over the next six years.

"We've been under a lot of pressure lately so it will be good to have everything worked out," said one burly union crane operator, who declined to give his name.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union probably will vote on the agreement in January.

A few union members questioned the length of the contract, saying it was twice as long as their most recent pact. Some suggested, with bravado, that the rank-and-file would vote against the deal if wage increases or the proposed pension plan were unsatisfactory.

But most workers said they just wanted to put the messy contract battle behind them.

"This is a great gig," said one 42-year-old longshoreman during his lunch break.

"Work is steady, and we keep moving cargo, more cargo every year. And the money's good. I just hope it stays that way."

A marine shipping clerk who has worked at the port 25 years, who also asked not to be identified, said the workers were relieved that a deal had been reached a month before the expiration of a federal injunction that was keeping the ports open and running.

"The last thing we wanted to do was go out on strike," he said.

The port's labor troubles sent waves of discontent crashing far beyond the shipping yards of Wilmington and Long Beach. Businesses from retailers to truck-washing operations were walloped during a 10-day lockout.

The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents the shipping lines and terminal operators, then filed documents with the Justice Department last month claiming the union had defied a court order by engaging in systematic slowdowns, which caused productivity to plummet.

Dockworkers bristled at the suggestion, saying they were following work and safety rules. They attributed any declines in productivity to congestion on the docks, shortages of equipment and labor, and mismanagement by terminal operators.

Some truckers said they were among those who have been squeezed the most. A group of drivers waiting for their cabs to be cleaned at Del's Truck Wash on Flint Street in Wilmington said work has been slow for more than six months. And that hurts the truckers because they typically are paid by the load -- not by the hour.

The truckers said they have sat days and hours waiting to pick up a single container to drive north to the rail lines.

"Sometimes we have to wait two to three hours and sometimes we lose a whole day," said Isidro Gonzales, a 37-year-old driver from Downey who was repairing his rig outside Harbor Truck Supplies on Anaheim Street in Long Beach.

"I don't disagree with the longshoremen. Everyone wants to make a lot of money. I do too," Gonzales said. "But if they don't work, I don't make money. We all need to support families and make service on our trucks."

Another driver, Americo Dasilvo of Pine Bush, N.Y., was buying bolts at Harbor Truck Supplies. The 42-year-old driver said the port labor woes have had repercussions throughout the nation.

"Even the East Coast is slow. We're wasting a lot of time trying to get loads," Dasilvo said. "It's been bad because we've also got to pay for our trucks and houses."

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