In what is probably the most significant development to emerge from more than two years of negotiation between office clerical workers and waterfront employers in Los Angeles-Long Beach, the parties issued a statement Thursday indicating they wish to avoid a strike or lockout.
John Fageaux, lead negotiator for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit, and Stephen Berry, lead negotiator for the 14 shipping lines and terminal operators, issued this joint statement:
“Both the ILWU Local 63-OCU and the employer members of the Harbor Employers Association understand the importance to the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the region and the nation of reaching a labor agreement without a strike and lockout. Both sides are working hard toward this end. Bargaining has continued each day this week with one of the companies, and is ongoing.”
Office clerical workers process shipping documents and perform other clerical functions at shipping lines and terminal operators. The OCU-represented companies are located primarily in Southern California. Negotiations for a new contract began in April 2010, and the OCU has been working without a contract since the previous one expired in June 2010. The issues center primarily upon technology and productivity.
This week has been particularly unpredictable in the lengthy saga of OCU negotiations. The week began with the union presenting employers with its last, best and final offer — an offer the employers’ group was expected to dismiss outright.
Shipping lines and terminal operators held internal meetings preparing for what was anticipated was going to be the posting of OCU pickets at the APM terminal in Los Angeles, the employer that is the subject of the current round of negotiations. Employers reportedly were prepared to lock out OCU units at all 14 of the companies.
That doomsday scenario was followed in mid-week by a brief statement from employers saying that both sides were back at the bargaining table. Negotiations reportedly continued late into the night Wednesday.
Thursday’s joint statement is significant because it is the first time in quite awhile that both sides agreed to collaborate on a public statement.
Unlike most waterfront groups, which negotiate coastwide contracts, the OCU and waterfront employers focus in on one company at a time. Although the 14 different contracts tend to be similar in most respects, each has certain unique features.
The OCU’s main leverage is its ability to post pickets at a particular terminal and win the support of ILWU dockworkers to shut down cargo-handling operations at that facility. An arbitrator who handles contractual disputes on the waterfront ruled in April that ILWU dockworkers could honor the pickets without violating the terms of their contract with the Pacific Maritime Association.