Contract negotiations resumed Tuesday between office clerical workers and waterfront employers in Southern California. It was the first face-to-face meeting in six months between the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 and the attorney representing 14 waterfront employers.
The office workers process transportation documents and perform other clerical functions for shipping lines and terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach. They have been working without a contract since June 2010. Negotiations between the OCU and attorney Stephen Berry, who represents the employers, have been sporadic over the past two years.
The OCU is affiliated with the ILWU, but the office workers have a separate contract. The OCU negotiates with Berry, who represents the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, rather than with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers in their negotiations with ILWU dockworkers.
Employers received a shock last month when the coast arbitrator who handles disputes between the ILWU and the PMA ruled the ILWU dockworkers could legally refuse to cross a picket line set up by the OCU. The office workers could potentially shut down the ports if they established pickets at the terminals where their workers are represented.
The major issue separating both parties appears to be the impact of technology on office clerical worker jobs. OCU members earn as much as $100,000 a year and have a solid benefits package, so wages, while under negotiation, are considered a secondary issue.
Retailers and other shippers in the trans-Pacific are anxious about the lack of progress in the OCU negotiations. Cargo interests at the same time are concerned because the news coming out of contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association and employers on the East and Gulf coasts has been unsettling. The ILA contract will expire on Sept. 30.
Retailers in the eastern half of the country said they are prepared to begin diverting some cargo to West Coast ports in June if no progress is reported in the ILA negotiations. However, with the threat of an OCU job action hanging over Los Angeles-Long Beach, which handles about 40 percent of U.S. imports from Asia, retailers and other large importers hesitate to divert shipments to the West Coast.
Berry said his negotiations with the OCU on Tuesday were “cordial,” but no substantive progress was made. The two parties are scheduled to resume talks Wednesday.