Tentative Port of Los Angeles agreement to end strike means 51 open positions go unfilled

Brad Racino

The Port of Long Beach, together with the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, handles roughly 40 percent of imports into the United States.

The 450 clerical workers who called off their strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will soon vote whether to ratify a new contract with their employers. While the tentative agreement provides some layoff protection for current employees, there are union concessions that eliminates some positions.

The union’s 40-member bargaining unit voted unanimously in favor of the tentative agreement Tuesday night. In order for the contract to go into effect, the majority of the 450 members must approve it.

The workers, organized under the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, went on an eight day strike because they were concerned their jobs would be outsourced to places like India and Costa Rica. Under the new agreement, the ILWU said there is language that prevents their jobs from being sent overseas.

“We have a promise to employees not to lay them off, to guarantee them a job for life,” said Stephen Berry, the lead negotiator for the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association.

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.

Unionized clerical workers will also receive about $90,000 in annual pay and benefits of about $95,000, bringing the overall wage and benefits package to $185,000 to $190,000, Berry said. Under the old contract, workers had a wage and benefits package of about $165,000 a year, he added. Clerical workers perform a variety of duties including processing bills and setting up the trucking schedule.

But the new contract was not without union concessions. The employer wanted more flexibility with its staffing and it achieved that under the new agreement. The employers no longer need to bring in temporary workers when clerical workers go on vacation.

“That was critical … to bring people in when we need them and not have to bring people in when we don’t need them,” Berry said.

The ILWU wanted the LA/LB Harbor Employers Association to fill 51 open positions, but under the new agreement, those jobs will be gone. In addition, as clerical workers retire, 14 of those jobs will also go unfilled, said Trinie Thompson, a logistics coordinator and union negotiator at American President Lines. Those concessions were made in light of the economy.

“It’s going to be important going forward, working with the employer, to make sure that the jobs that are here, remain here,” Thompson said.

In the next two weeks, the union will work with the employers association to finalize the details of the tentative agreement and then let their membership vote on whether to approve the contract, Thompson said. The contract would last until June 2016.

The tentative agreement, announced late Tuesday night, ends the strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where 10 out of 14 terminals were closed because thousands of dock workers did not cross the picket lines.

Southern California companies, from trucking to retail firms, said they were losing money because the delivery of goods was delayed. Federal mediators and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also got involved in the negotiations between the union and the employers association.

David Lewin, who teaches at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, said he was glad an agreement was reached. 

"Both of the direct parties are winners and I think the economy of the Los Angeles-Long Beach (area) is also a winner," Lewin said. 

On Wednesday morning, all the terminals at the ports were open and in “full throttle,” said Phillip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles.

“The days ahead will be very busy, but we got thousands of people back on the job and we’re returning to business as usual,” he said.

Sanfield said it would take at a minimum several days to catch up with the cargo that’s stacked on the docks.

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