With their contract set to expire at midnight Wednesday, office clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach authorized the leadership of the union to call for a strike at their discretion.
John Fageaux, president of the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63, said the union was working up a comprehensive negotiating position the union planned to present to employers at 6 p.m., six hours before the contract was due to expire.
Membership authorization for a strike does not automatically result in a strike. While it was looking unlikely a contract would be reached by midnight, negotiations could continue beyond the deadline.
About 950 OCU members in Southern California handle booking and perform customer support work for shipping lines and terminal operators. The union is affiliated with ILWU Local 63, the marine clerks local.
The OCU operates under a different contract from the longshoremen. Nevertheless, if office workers set up pickets at the terminals, they will ask the longshoremen to honor the pickets.
Fageaux said the union's main issue is an attempt by employers to use information technology to outsource OCU functions. He said negotiators had not even started to discuss wages.
According to a white paper released by Stephen Berry, lead negotiator for employers, OCU members earn on average $96,900 per year, "with some over $250,000." OCU members also receive benefits totaling an additional $66,000 per year.
The union is seeking an increase of 37 percent in pension benefits, Berry said. Fageaux could neither confirm nor deny that percentage, saying the union's pension proposal is a dollar amount.
Employers have offered to retain all existing current OCU members "despite inconsistent availability of sufficient work and a fragile recovery," Berry said.
A key demand of employers is flexibility in staffing. Employers want the flexibility to call in temporary employees or hire new employees only when there is a real business need to do so.
The OCU demands that employers take a union-dispatched temporary worker every time an employee misses a day of work regardless of whether there is any work for the temporary worker to perform, Berry said.
Fageaux said employers want to reduce headcount at their own discretion, which the union opposes.
Employers also want the new contract to last six years, rather than the traditional three years, which is similar to the ILWU longshore contract, in order to promote stability. Fageaux said the union does not agree to that proposal. "We've had a three-year contract for the last 50 years," he said.
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