Office clerical workers and waterfront employers in Los Angeles-Long Beach are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Wednesday in an atmosphere of frustration that has attracted the attention of political leaders in California.
California’s U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in letters addressed to the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 and the Harbor Employers’ Association, urged both parties to bargain in good faith and reach an agreement.
OCU and employer negotiators met on Tuesday, but attorney Stephen Berry, representing 14 shipping lines and terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach, said no movement has occurred so far.
The OCU, whose 600 members process shipping documents and perform other clerical functions, has been working without a contract since June 2010. Negotiations have been sporadic, often with months elapsing between negotiating sessions.
If negotiations continue on Wednesday as planned, it would mark three consecutive days of talks. While this is longer than several recent attempts to create movement in the talks, Berry described the negotiating environment as “fragile” and “touch and go.”
Mayor Villaraigosa has been attempting to move the negotiations along, but in a July 31 letter to both parties, he expressed his frustration. “It is disappointing that since we met in my office early last month, little progress has been made on any of the issues which separate you,” he said.
Senators Boxer and Feinstein reminded Berry and OCU President John Fageaux that they initiated negotiations in April 2010, and the lengthy impasse threatens to harm the competitiveness of the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex.
“With the fragile state of California’s economy and growing competition from other U.S. ports, it is essential that both parties reach an agreement that will protect these important jobs and allow the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to continue operating without disruption,” the senators said.
Sending a similar message, Villaraigosa urged the parties to take their dispute to mediation rather than risk rash actions by either party. “There is too much at stake for our city and the nation’s economy for your differences to be settled through a strike or lockout,” he said.
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