The strange events surrounding contract negotiations between office clerical workers in Los Angeles-Long Beach and waterfront employers have become even more suspenseful with the union charging that one of the employers eavesdropped on conversations among its members.
The Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that APM Terminals used its phone system late last year to listen in on conversations by OCU members discussing contract negotiations.
John Crowley, APM vice president for law and regulatory affairs, said Wednesday the company’s management did not authorize any such action. APM did, however, place an employee on administrative leave while it conducted an investigation into the matter.
Clerical workers process shipping documents in the offices of carriers and marine terminals. The OCU is affiliated with the ILWU, but its contract — when the OCU is working under contract — is separate from the larger dockworkers union.
The 600-member OCU has been working without a contract since June 2010 at the nation’s largest port complex. Negotiations reached an impasse late last year, and the OCU set up picket lines at 10 of the 14 container terminals in the port complex. Cargo handling at those terminals was shut down Nov. 27 for eight days when the ILWU dockworkers refused to cross the lines.
Negotiators reached an agreement on Dec. 4 after a nightlong effort by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to convince both sides to compromise. Two federal mediators were dispatched from Washington to add their influence to the negotiations, and the agreement was signed while the negotiators were in transit.
What appeared at the time to be a tentative agreement turned out to be a mirage when the OCU membership on Feb. 6 rejected the contract. Details of what happened are sketchy as neither party has returned phone calls since then, and the union at first reportedly did not share the results of the vote with employers.
However, it appears that three of the 16 OCU bargaining units rejected the agreement and the remaining units approved it provisionally until those three came back on board.
Unanswered questions include how strongly the OCU leadership attempted to sell the agreement to the members and whether or not employers are willing to reopen negotiations.
Because it would be difficult for the OCU on its own to stop cargo handling at the ports, the union’s strength comes in convincing the ILWU dockworkers to honor any picket lines they may post.
The ILWU headquarters in San Francisco refuses to discuss what is happening. Spokesmen at both ports said there are no pickets and operations in both Los Angeles and Long Beach are proceeding normally.
The ILWU dockworkers the past two years had been attempting to portray their union as being dependable and eager to regain the 25 percent of cargo volume that had been lost in the recession of 2008-09. The inability of the OCU leadership to get its membership to approve the tentative agreement has tarnished the image of the ILWU dockworkers.
Money is not the issue in the OCU contract negotiations as each worker would receive average pay and benefits totaling $190,000 a year by the end of the contract in 2016. The OCU has charged that employers are using computer technology to outsource their work, a charge that employers deny.
Developments involving the OCU complaint against APM terminals have likewise been unorthodox. The original complaint was filed in November, but it went nowhere when the OCU reportedly failed to cooperate with the NLRB. The OCU failed to meet a Jan. 24 deadline to lodge an appeal with the NLRB, but it later filed a new complaint that the NLRB is now investigating.