LONG BEACH, Calif. — After weeks of negotiations, talks broke off Tuesday between office clerical workers and employers in Los Angeles-Long Beach, raising the specter of a labor action at the nation’s largest port complex.
John Fageaux, president of the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63, warned that, “We’ll have to take economic action at some point.”
Employers at marine terminals in the nation’s largest port complex take such threats seriously because, following a waterfront arbitrator’s decision in April, ILWU dockworkers will not violate their contract if they refuse to cross picket lines established by the OCU.
Shipping lines and terminal operators who are represented by the Harbor Employers’ Association said they offered to guarantee the OCU “absolute job security” for existing workers, a guaranteed work week and a $1-an-hour pay increase that will raise average annual earnings to $90,000 per worker.
Fageaux, while acknowledging those financial points, said the reason why the OCU rejected the contract proposal is that employers insist on using technology to open the companies’ electronic portals to non-OCU workers in the U.S. or countries overseas.
That policy would lead to attrition of OCU jobs, and once those positions are lost, they will be gone forever, he said. “This isn’t about economics. It’s about job preservation,” he said. In effect, the membership of the OCU would continue to shrink as existing workers retired, he said.
The OCU has been working without a contract since June 2010. Talks had been held sporadically over the past two years, but negotiations resumed in earnest in August with hopes that a contract settlement would be reached.
Office clerical workers process shipping documentation and perform other types of office work. Most of the OCU membership is in Southern California. Although the office clerical workers are affiliated with the ILWU, the OCU has a separate contract. In fact, the OCU has 14 individual contracts with 14 employers.
A strike by the OCU in itself would not have a significant impact on cargo-handling at the ports. However, if the OCU posts pickets at the terminals, and ILWU dockworkers refuse to cross the picket lines, the ports would be shut down.
In a statement, the Harbor Employers’ Association charged that the OCU made a series of demands its member companies could not accept. The OCU made “an unlawful demand that employers convert some managers to union-represented clerks; a demand that employers hire additional employees they do not need, and numerous new side letters … seeking to expand union jurisdiction in ways that conflict with or go beyond the language of the parties’ main contract.”
Now that talks have broken down, and no new talks are scheduled, the employers association said, “further OCU-initiated disruptions in the Los Angeles-Long Beach ports is likely.”