Contract talks between union, port employers expected to go into late Friday night

Contract negotiations between the clerical unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association are expected to go late into Friday night at the Banning’s Landing Community Center in Wilmington. 

The clerical workers had been working without a contract for more than two years, but on Tuesday they walked off the job and began a strike that has all but shut down cargo traffic through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. 

The strike involves about 500 clerical workers who process cargo at the ports. Thousands of union longshore workers and truck drivers who move the cargo are refusing to cross the picket lines.  

The workers claim their employers — shipping companies such as APM Terminals, Yang Ming Corporation, and Yusen Terminals, Inc. — are outsourcing their jobs to places like India and Costa Rica.  They say the shipping companies are using new technology that gives people in other countries access to the computer systems that track the cargo moving through local ports. 

John Fageaux Jr., president of the local clerical unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, says of the employers: “Their position is, ‘We don’t need as many of you because we are allowing non-union members to perform your work, and we’re paying them pennies on the dollar compared to what we’re paying American workers.’”

The Employers Association maintains the shipping companies haven’t outsourced any clerical jobs, and that in the two years employees have been working without a contract, the union has only brought up the outsourcing issue very recently.  

The employers add that clerical workers at the port are the highest paid such workers in the U.S.  They estimate the average annual compensation package at $165,000.  That figure combines wages, which average closer to $85,000 per year, with benefits, including pension contributions.  The Employers Association says it has offered increases in both salaries and benefits and to protect every existing union job. 

"This is a fluctuating business, we're in  a nascent economic recovery," employers spokesman Steve Getzug said. "What we're saying is, 'We will guarantee your job in this contract.  We will pay you 52 weeks out of the year, even if there is not work for you to do.' That's a pretty sweet offer given this economy and given ten-and-a-half percent unemployment in Los Angeles County." 

The Marine Exchange of Southern California, which tracks and manages ship traffic at the two ports, said seven container vessels have diverted to other locales.  Three of those ships went to Oakland, two went to Panama, and two went to the port at Ensenada, Mexico.

“We actually had ships here that went to anchor. and since they couldn’t get into the port, they picked up to have their cargo discharged somewhere else,” said the Exchange’s Executive Director, Dick McKenna.  “We also have an example of a ship that was on its way here that saw things might not work out for them here, so they diverted to another port and expect to come here afterwards.”

McKenna added that the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex is often the first and most important stop on a cargo ship's itinerary, but he said shipping companies can change that itinerary to meet customer needs.  McKenna said that by 8 a.m. on Friday, six ships were anchored outside the ports awaiting entry, but he expected more .