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Clerical Workers Walk Back Labor Agreement

Fears Of Another Port Strike Mount

Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer

February 12, 2013 – The tentative agreement that ended an eight-day clerical workers strike at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles last year is in jeopardy after all 16 union bargaining groups failed to ratify the terms of a new contract with 14 shipping companies during a vote February 6. As of press time, operations at both ports charged ahead, but fears of another strike loomed.

“Until there is agreement, the clerks continue to work under the terms of the previous contract,” Steve Getzug, a spokesperson for the Harbor Employers Association (HEA), told the Business Journal.

“We’re hoping that whatever issues remain are quickly worked out,” said Phillip Sanfield, spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles.

“We continue to urge them to work toward a resolution,” said Art Wong, spokesperson for the Port of Long Beach.

It is unclear why the 800-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63-Office Clerical Unit (OCU) rejected the terms of a new contract that had been hashed out December 4. Union representatives did not return calls from the Business Journal for comment.

Last year’s strike shut down operations at 10 of 14 terminals across the seaport complex. About 10,000 longshoremen, dockworkers and other ILWU members honored the picket lines, which forced many shipping vessels to divert to other ports along the West Coast and Mexico. The labor dispute centered on what union members said was the outsourcing of jobs, a claim the HEA has repeatedly denied.

The turning point in negotiations came when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa weighed in and managed to convince the OCU to agree to have a federal mediator enter talks. A deal – which included absolute job security and an average annual compensation package worth $190,000, with pensions as high as $75,000 – was then agreed to before the mediator arrived. Now, it seems, negotiations will re-open.

“More than two months ago, ILWU Local 63-Office Clerical Unit and 14 employers reached a tentative agreement settling the major differences between them, ending a week-long strike and reopening all terminals for business,” Villaraigosa said in a statement February 8. “Some differences still remain between the parties, as reflected in the ratification vote results earlier this week. However, the parties continue to talk and all terminals remain open and busy. I will continue to remain engaged to support a final negotiated resolution.”

The potential for another strike, and the adverse economic impact it would have on retailers, distributors and other industries associated with the ports and international trade, has some crying foul.

“We are extremely disappointed by this vote and strongly urge the parties to work through their differences without any kind of disruption,” Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, said in a statement. “Ratification of a contract is needed to give retailers and other industries that rely on these ports the predictability they need to make long-term plans and get back to growing their businesses and creating jobs. We can’t afford to see another shutdown. As labor and management work to resolve this situation, uninterrupted operation of the ports should be their top priority. Too many jobs across the country depend on these ports to let any interference with operations be considered an acceptable way of doing business.”

Union leadership and HEA representatives are expected to meet this week to address the sticking points that sent the clerical workers back-pedaling on the terms of the new contract.