Federal mediators brought in on port workers' strike

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Federal mediators on Tuesday night will attempt to negotiate a deal between clerical workers on strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and a group representing their employers.

The 450 workers, organized under the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, have been on strike for more than a week. They have been picketing in front of the entrances to several terminals, prompting closures because thousands of longshoremen refuse to cross the picket lines.

But the economic impact of the strike extends beyond the port. About $1 billion worth of goods move through the ports each day and the delay is costing local firms like Los Angeles-based toy manufacturer Megatoys tens of thousands of dollars.

CEO Charlie Woo said there would normally be 400 to 500 workers stuffing candy into plastic bags at his firm, just in time for Valentine’s Day and Easter. But on Tuesday, roughly 100 people were working.

He said it could get worse if the strike continues for another week.

 “The workers that are working today might not be working in two weeks because they will be running out of products,” said Woo, who is also treasurer of Southern California Public Radio's board of trustees.

Megatoys estimates the strike has stalled $1 million worth of its goods. Workers have less to do now, but when the goods finally do arrive at Megatoys, Woo said he'll have to pay employees overtime in order to get the products to retailers in time.

Trucking companies and workers that load trucks are also suffering from the port terminal closures.

The last time there was a work stoppage of this magnitude was 10 years ago, when employers locked out longshoremen. Woo said that lockout cost his firm millions of dollars.

It’s unclear how much progress has been made in talks between the unionized clerical workers and their employers, represented by the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association. The last contract was negotiated more than two years ago.

Late Monday night, Los Anegles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who came back from a trade mission in South America, tried to get both sides to settle, but to no avail.

The workers say their employers have outsourced their jobs to Costa Rica, India and elsewhere.

“It’s not good for anybody and corporations need to be more accountable and responsible to the communities here and the country,” said Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

But Steve Getzug, spokesman for the Harbor Employers Association, said on AirTalk on Tuesday that there is no outsourcing happening.

“The work that the clerks do here stays with them,” Getzug said.

The clerical workers earn $41 an hour. Getzug told KPCC's AirTalk that there is a proposal to bring compensation packages from $165,000 to $190,000 over the life of the contract.

Getzug said the employers want more flexibility on staffing levels. He said if a worker is sick or on vacation, the employers want to be free from the obligation of bringing a temporary worker in if there is no work to do.

Federal mediators Scot Beckenbaugh and George Cohen will arrive in Wilmington at 7:30 p.m. Beckenbaugh has mediated discussions involved in the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association regarding the NHL lockout.

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