LOS ANGELES — The federal mediator who will attempt to help striking office clerical workers reach a contract agreement with terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach was expected to join the negotiations Tuesday night.
Stephen Berry, the attorney who represents waterfront employers, said the Waterfront Employers Association and the Office Clerical Union of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 agreed to enter mediation as soon as the representative from Washington arrived late Tuesday.
Meanwhile, 10 of the 14 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach remained closed on Tuesday as cargo and vessels backed up in the ports. Vessel diversions to Oakland and ports in Mexico and Panama continued.
So far, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been the star of the negotiations by convincing the parties to accept federal mediation. The mayor arrived at LAX at 10:30 p.m. on Monday on a flight from South America and went directly to the negotiations. The mayor remained involved Monday night into Tuesday morning, meeting with both parties together and individually.
“He was persistent, he was passionate and he was persuasive,” Berry said.
During the negotiations Monday night, employers made a “very significant move,” Berry said. “Unfortunately, the OCU moved backward in its response,” he said. OCU President John Fageaux could not be immediately reached for comment.
Berry would not go into details, but he said the negotiations are focusing on staffing needs both for temporary replacement work and for permanent positions.
The OCU has maintained leverage in the week-long strike because ILWU dockworkers have refused to cross the pickets, shutting down cargo handling since Nov. 27. Jim McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers in negotiating and administering the contract for dockworkers, said the joint area arbitrator last week ruled the OCU picket line was bona fide, so dockworkers can legally honor the picket lines.
The OCU has maintained since its contract expired in June 2010 that it wants to prevent employers from using information technology to outsource union jobs to non-union workers in other states and countries. Berry said the OCU has yet to file a single complaint officially charging outsourcing of jobs.
According to employers, if the OCU accepts the financial terms in the proposed new contract, the clerical workers will each earn on average annual wages and benefits totaling $190,000.
Villaraigosa, some 100 international trade and transportation groups across the country, and local and congressional leaders have publicly urged both sides to reach an agreement and reopen the ports to commerce. They cited the huge economic toll that the shutdown of the ports is having on the local and national economies, a figure estimated to be in the billions of dollars as vessel, rail and truck operations have ceased.