UPDATE: Union, employer at Port of Los Angeles are negotiating again to end strike

LA Port Strike Friday

Brian Watt

Picketing continues for a fourth day outside the terminals at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

UPDATE 8:34 a.m.: Negotiators for the clerical unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and The Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association are set to return to the bargaining table at 9 a.m. Friday in Wilmington. Their goal is to reach a contract agreement that will end a strike that started earlier this week at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Small groups of workers continue to picket in the rain outside several terminals at the ports, including APM Terminals and the terminal for American President Lines.

UPDATE 7:38 a.m.: There are about five workers walking the picket line in the rain at the Port of Los Angeles Friday morning. Several longshoremen could be seen nearby, wondering if they would be going back to work.

Neither side has provided an update on the status of the negotiations, which resumed Thursday evening.

PREVIOUSLY: The union that represents hundreds of clerical workers on strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach says it met on Thursday night with employers to negotiate a new contract.

The workers, organized under the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, have been on strike since earlier this week. They claim the company is outsourcing their jobs to places like India and Costa Rica. Union representatives say the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association asked for a meeting that began at 7 p.m. Thursday.

"We think it's a good sign," says Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "It makes people hopeful that the employer will start addressing the outsourcing issue that has been at the core of this conflict."

A prolonged strike could harm Southern California’s economy. Art Wong, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, says 5,000 to 6,000 truck drivers aren’t working, and trains could be delayed because they aren’t full with cargo.

“Many thousands of jobs could be in jeopardy because of this and we’re hoping this gets resolved very quickly,” Wong says.

As many as 500 port clerical workers participated in the strike. Their duties include processing bills and setting up the trucking schedule. On average, they earn $40 an hour.

The strike had an even deeper impact at the ports because thousands of longshoremen refused to cross the picket lines. That caused officials to close down terminals. On Thursday, seven of the eight terminals at Port of Los Angeles and half the six terminals at the Port of Long Beach shut down. Several union members picketed in front of terminal entrances.

Officials said no data was currently available on how much money will be lost due to the terminal closures.  Each day, $1 billion worth of goods passes through both ports, Wong says.

Already, workers in the trucking industry said they were worried they'll miss paychecks next week because they expect fewer shipments from the port. A shortage of work on some days already prompts trucking companies to turn temp workers away.

“I’m very worried, because I have three children. They might not have a Christmas,” says Vinny Wilkes, who loads and unloads trucks out of California Cartage Co. in Wilmington.

Wilkes earns $8 an hour and works part-time. He’s not sure how he’ll pay for presents if the strike continues.

The goods shipped into the ports include retail items like furniture, auto parts and clothing. If the strike continues for more than a week, it’s possible that retailers could divert their goods to other ports, says Brian Dodge, spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The last work stoppage of this magnitude at the ports occurred a decade ago, during a worker lockout. During that event, Dodge says, retailers started using ports beyone Southern California. In some cases, they never returned to the area after the lockout was over.

“There were lasting impacts of the work stoppages in the West Coast that have hindered the growth of the activity at the ports on the West Coast,” Dodge says.

Port of Los Angeles officials say some boats are already headed toward other ports, including Mexico.

John Fageaux Jr., president of the local clerical unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, says his organization understands the “enormous impact” this can have on the regional and local economy. He says the union is “doing everything it can” to negotiate with the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association for an agreement. He adds, though, that workers will picket until they reach an agreement.

The Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association did not return a call for comment.

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