Striking office clerical workers continued to cripple the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Thursday as 10 container terminals remained shut down.
A crisis has not yet developed at the nation’s largest port complex, but if the terminals remain closed through the weekend, some cargo interests and industry executives are predicting gridlock will result.
Members of the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 posted pickets at the terminals on Wednesday. ILWU dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines, ending cargo-handling operations at the facilities.
The OCU does not have contracts with four other container terminals in the harbor, and those facilities — one in Los Angeles and three in Long Beach — were operating normally Thursday.
Office clerical workers process shipping documents for shipping lines and terminal operators. They have been working without a contract since June 2010. The OCU union is affiliated with the larger ILWU, but the clerical workers have a different contract than ILWU dockworkers.
UPDATE: Port employers say they are ready to talk.
It appears the OCU has the upper hand in the struggle now that the area waterfront arbitrator and the Coast Labor Relations Committee have each ruled the OCU has bona fide picket lines in Southern California.
Earlier in the week, the area arbitrator ruled the OCU’s job action targeting only the APM Terminal in Los Angeles was not a legal picket under the waterfront contract between the ILWU dockworkers and the Pacific Maritime Association. The longshoremen were ordered to return to work at APMT, but the dockworkers refused to follow the arbitrator’s order.
The decision by the OCU on Wednesday to post pickets at all of the terminals where office clerical workers have a presence was apparently enough to cause the arbitrator to issue a second ruling saying the pickets are bona fide. The Coast Labor Relations Committee late Wednesday reached the same conclusion.
The union’s main issue involves alleged outsourcing of jobs to non-OCU workers in other states and overseas. Employers continue to resist attempts by the union to maintain contract provisions requiring that jobs always be filled when workers are absent or retire, even if there is no work to be done.
The main concern of importers and exporters is with each day that goes by with two-thirds of the harbor shut down, a backlog will eventually cripple the ports. Some vessels conceivably could be handled at the four terminals that continue to operate, but they would have to be third-party shipping lines that do not have their own OCU-manned terminals in Southern California.
If a vessel operated by a shipping line affiliated with a terminal where OCU members work attempted to divert to a non-OCU terminal that remains open, the OCU pickets would most likely follow the vessel to that facility.