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Port-strike talks continue even on Sunday, but stalemate goes on

December 02, 2012|By Ronald D. White
  • Fog shrouds the normally busy cranes at the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. The strike that has idled 10 of 14 cargo container terminals at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach began here last Tuesday.
Fog shrouds the normally busy cranes at the APM Terminal at the Port of Los… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

At least they are talking, even on Sunday.

Labor contract negotiations are set to resume today in the now six-day-old strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Talks had continued past 9 p.m. Saturday night.

The strike, by the 800-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit, has shut down 10 of the 14 cargo container terminals at the nation's busiest seaport complex.

The labor fight pits the union against a group of shipping lines and cargo terminal operators calling themselves the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Assn.

The strike is considered a potentially disastrous event for the Southern California economy because the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the leading contributors to the region's goods movement industry that employs about 595,000 people.

Last year, the two ports handled 39.5% of the total value of all cargo container imports entering the U.S. from origins worldwide, according to Jock O'Connell, international trade economist and adviser to Beacon Economics.

The union, which handles the vast amount of paperwork associated with the ports' container cargo, has been working without a contract since June 30, 2010.

The strike has crippled the port because of support from the ILWU dockworkers, who have 50,000 members on the U.S. West Coast, in Canada and in Hawaii. The dockworkers negotiate their contracts separately, but the 10,000 members who work at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have honored the smaller union's picket lines.

As a result, seven of the eight cargo container terminals at the Port of Los Angeles remain closed. Three of the six cargo container terminals at the Port of Long Beach are also closed.

The union says that its main issue is what it claims is the outsourcing of its jobs, which are being lost through attrition, retirements, illnesses or other reasons.

The shipping lines and terminal operators say the union's outsourcing claims are bogus and say they have offered "absolute job security."

The employers have repeatedly said the union members are the highest-paid clerical workers in the U.S., having a total compensation package of $165,000 a year, including wages, benefits, pension contributions and paid vacation. That package would be worth $195,000 a year under management's new offer, the employers have said.

On Saturday, the union offered a rebuttal, saying that the employers' claims were misleading. Wages reached $40 to $41 an hour, for an annual pay level of $80,000 to $82,200 a year, not counting overtime, retirement or benefits. The union has asked for a 2.5% raise, said union spokesman Craig Merrilees.

Merrilees added that the union has had one pay increase in the past four years.

Since the strike started, nine ships have either diverted at sea or briefly anchored outside the ports before leaving to unload at another harbor.

There were no new ship diversions reported on Sunday, said Capt. Dick McKenna, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which tracks vessel movements.

Other than the lightly manned picket lines, the ships were the biggest evidence of the strike on Sunday.

Nine cargo container ships were anchored offshore Sunday: the APL London; the Hanjin ships Constantza, Algeciras and Chongqing; the Hyundai Hong Kong; the Ital Contessa; the Kota Wangsa; the Maersk Merlion; and the Liberian-flagged Talassa.

Normally, those ships would have gone straight to dock for unloading, but there is no room for them yet because of the strike.

Three more container ships are due to arrive today and 11 more container ships are scheduled to arrive on Monday.

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