Office clerical workers in Los Angeles-Long Beach walked off their jobs and set up picket lines at the ports when contract negotiations broke down at midnight Wednesday.
Dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines, but a local arbitrator ruled the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 did not bargain in good faith and said ILWU dockworkers must not honor the picket lines.
The clerical workers, who process documentation and perform customer service work at 14 marine terminals in Los Angeles, are affiliated with the ILWU, but they have a separate contract.
Stephen Berry, the attorney representing the 14 terminals and shipping lines, said the OCU e-mailed their contract proposal to him at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, 3 1/2 hours before the OCU's three-year contract was set to expire.
Berry said the OCU package included a wage and benefits package that in total represented a 32 percent increase in employer costs over three years. The waterfront arbitrator ruled that presenting employers with such a large increase in wages and benefits with only 3 1/2 hours to negotiate did not represent good-faith bargaining, Berry said.
Employers responded to the OCU with their own proposal calling for a wage increase of $1 an hour over six years and a 10 percent increase in pension benefits.
OCU President John Fageaux was not immediately available for comment, but earlier said the new contract would be based primarily upon job security for OCU workers. He said employers intend to use information technology to reduce work opportunities for OCU members and to outsource existing work to overseas locations.
Employers say they have not transferred union-represented work overseas and do not plan to do so. All current employees will retain their jobs "despite inconsistent availability of work," Berry said.
The final night of negotiations before the midnight deadline started off on a bad note. The plan was for both sides to exchange contract proposals at a meeting set for 6 p.m.
However, Berry turned down the union's request to meet at its office in Long Beach, and OCU negotiators refused Berry's request to hold negotiations at his office in Costa Mesa in Orange County.
Because of the impasse, no face-to-face negotiations were held on Wednesday.
Berry said the primary demand of employers in the new contract is for flexibility to use workers only when there is sufficient work to be done. Under the current contract, if an employee calls in sick, or is on vacation, the union will dispatch another worker to fill the spot.
The OCU contract provides for 21 to 23 paid holidays, 13 to 15 paid sick days and an average of more than four weeks of vacation each year. Employers say the average worker is off for some reason at least one day per week, every week. "We're operating at an 80 percent staffing level," Berry said.
And yet, there are days when an 80 percent staffing level is sufficient to cover all of the work, he said.
The previous contract made OCU members the highest compensated clerical workers in the nation, employers said. Last year, the average earnings were $96,900. On May 1 this year, the hourly wage increased $1. Also, OCU members have average annual benefits totaling $66,000, Berry said.
Employers have offered to increase the OCU pension to $165 per month for each year of service, up from $150. Under the expired contract, an employee who retired with 30 years of service qualified for an annual pension of $54,000.
-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at email@example.com.