Employers in Southern California are bracing for a possible escalation of labor actions because International Longshore and Warehouse Union dockworkers refused to abide by an arbitrator’s decision late Tuesday to return to their jobs at the APM terminal in Los Angeles.
The escalation could come in the form of striking office clerical workers posting pickets at other terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach, which presumably would be honored by ILWU dockworkers. Another possibility is that employers at all 14 shipping lines and terminals could rally around APM Terminals and lock out the striking office clerical workers at their facilities.
ILWU dockworkers Wednesday morning refused to cross a picket line that was placed at the APM terminal Tuesday by striking office workers represented by the Office Clerical Unit of ILWU Local 63.
The OCU members who process shipping documentation have been working without a contract since June 2010. The OCU is affiliated with the larger ILWU, but its contract is separate from the dockworkers’ coastwide contract.
When the dockworkers Tuesday honored the OCU picket line, the Pacific Maritime Association employers’ group immediately appealed to the local area arbitrator that is chosen jointly by the ILWU and the PMA.
The area arbitrator ruled late Tuesday that the OCU action did not constitute a bona fide picket under the waterfront contract. He ordered the dockworkers to report to their jobs for the day shift Wednesday at the APM terminal.
The dockworkers refused to do so, and the terminal remained shut down. The other dozen container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach had no pickets Wednesday and were working normally.
When the ILWU dockworkers Wednesday morning refused to perform cargo-handling at the APM terminal, the PMA appealed its case to the Coast Labor Relations Committee in San Francisco. All eyes were on that development Wednesday morning.
Two Maersk vessels were in port when the OCU pickets went up on Tuesday, and they were idled by the job action, said Alan McCorkle, managing director of APM’s Pier 400 terminal in Los Angeles. Three additional vessels from various lines were due in during the following 24 hours, McCorkle said on Wednesday.
The cause of the ruckus in Southern California is the inability of the OCU office workers and their employers to reach a new contract agreement during the past 2 ½ years.
OCU President John Fageaux charges that the shipping lines and terminal operators are using computer technology to outsource OCU work to other states and other countries. Stephen Berry, the lawyer who is negotiating on behalf of employers, said those charges are false. In fact, Berry said Tuesday that employers have agreed to provide the OCU with a paper trail of all correspondence and will fine employers who outsource OCU work.
Berry said Wednesday the situation has reached a dangerous stage. He said the employers and the OCU had no plans to meet. “There obviously is substantial risk,” he said. The risk involves OCU pickets spreading to other terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach. If that happens, the 14 employers might have to take defensive action, such as locking out the OCU workers at all facilities, Berry said.
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