Contract negotiations between office clerical workers and waterfront employers in Southern California broke off after only two days of talks, opening up at least a theoretical possibility of picketing and job actions at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
OCU President John Fageaux declined to comment on the possibility of picketing by his members.
If the OCU does picket, the impact on cargo-handling at the nation’s largest port complex would be very damaging if ILWU dockworkers refuse to cross the lines. The coast arbitrator who handles contract issues involving the ILWU dockworkers and their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association, ruled last month that dockworkers could honor OCU picket lines without violating the waterfront contract.
A job action at the nation’s largest port complex would throw retailers and other shippers into a tizzy as the peak shipping season approaches. Ports on all coasts could be caught in a cross-fire as the International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents dockworkers at East and Gulf Coast ports, is involved in negotiations. Their current contract expires Sept. 30.
On Thursday, James Capo, who represents East Coast employers, accused ILA President Harold Daggett of making unreasonable demands in the contract negotiations. The two sides have met once so far. Cargo interests were considering possible diversions to West Coast ports if the ILA talks break down, but those plans could be called off if the OCU dispute leads to job actions on the West Coast.
The office clerical workers in Southern California process transportation documents and perform other clerical work for terminal operators and ocean carriers. They have been working without a contract for two years.
Stephen Berry, the attorney representing the 14 member companies of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, said the two parties resumed negotiations on Tuesday after having suspended them in November 2011. The employers met with the OCU Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss a contract for one of the member companies, California United Terminals.
The employers gave the OCU three options for a complete contract, Berry said. The first option included a substantial pay increase and a signing bonus of $3,000 per worker and would increase pension benefits by moving the OCU pension and health programs to the larger ILWU trust, Berry said.
The second option would keep the OCU pension and health programs as is, with no pension increases, but a $1 per-hour per-year salary increase. Option 3 would merge the OCU with the larger ILWU marine clerks division.
“They rejected all three offers with no counter on any material points,” Berry said.
Fageaux said the OCU has had only one wage increase since 2008, and that amounted to 2.6 percent. The OCU is proposing only a 1.5 to 2.5 percent wage increase, he said.
The OCU’s biggest concern involves the use of computers to transfer traditional union jurisdiction to workers in other states or other countries. Employers want to use technology to develop a portal that would allow office workers in India or anywhere to access their terminal systems, Fageaux said.
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