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Talks to end L.A., Long Beach port strike heat up

With no agreement, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urges the clerical workers' union and port employers to negotiate around the clock.

December 03, 2012|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
  • About a dozen container ships sit offshore, unable to unload or load cargo. Ten more were due to arrive Monday. Above, ships sit offshore near idled cranes in the Port of Los Angeles.
About a dozen container ships sit offshore, unable to unload or load cargo.… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

Talks to end the six-day strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach intensified over the weekend, but with no resolution, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wrote a terse note to both sides. He wants round-the-clock bargaining with the help of a mediator.

The strike has pitted the 800-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit against some of the world's biggest shipping lines and terminal operators. It has shut down 10 of the 14 cargo container terminals at the nation's busiest seaport complex.

Until it launched the strike Tuesday, the union had been working without a contract since June 30, 2010. Although talks intensified over the weekend, there have also been periods of little or no negotiations, the mayor said.

"This cannot continue," Villaraigosa said in the three-paragraph communication to John Fageaux Jr., president of the union's clerical unit, and Stephen L. Berry, chief negotiator for the employers group.

"With thousands of members of other ILWU locals now honoring picket lines," the strike is "costing our local economy billions of dollars. The cost is too great to continue down this failed path," the mayor said in the note.

He added, "Mediation is essential and every available hour must be used."

On Sunday, the union workers' employers issued a statement saying that they had offered concessions on new hires but that they had been rejected. The employers had already called for a mediator to be brought in to speed up negotiations.

Union spokesman Craig Merrilees said the union was prepared to keep negotiating. "We need the employers to stay at the table until the job is done," he said. The union's main concern has been losing jobs through attrition without new hires to replace them.

Currently, about a dozen container ships sit offshore, unable to unload or load cargo. Ten more were scheduled to arrive Monday, said Dick McKenna, executive director of the nonprofit Marine Exchange of Southern California, which tracks ship traffic in the ports.

"Tomorrow will be a bit of an issue," McKenna said Sunday.

Villaraigosa has gotten involved in previous labor disputes. He encouraged an agreement between building owners and janitors that helped end a series of walkouts and protests in 2008.

In 2009, the mayor sent his senior labor advisor into talks to help avert a strike by Southern California Gas Co. employees.

The current strike by the clerical workers has crippled the ports because of support from the ILWU dockworkers, who have 50,000 members on the U.S. West Coast and in Hawaii and Canada.

The dockworkers negotiate their contracts separately, but the 10,000 members who work at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have honored the clerical unit's picket lines.

The strike is considered potentially disastrous 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, which 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, said Jock O'Connell, an international trade economist and advisor to Beacon Economics.

ron.white@latimes.com

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