LA-Long Beach Protests Take a 'Dangerous' Turn

LA-Long Beach Protests Take a 'Dangerous' Turn

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The clerical workers’ strike that shut down the APM terminal in Los Angeles Tuesday spread Wednesday afternoon to nine more terminals in the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, with the lead negotiator for employers describing the situation as “very dangerous.”

Three container terminals in Long Beach and one in Los Angeles remained open Wednesday because they do not employ members of the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63.

If the 10 terminals being struck remain closed through the weekend, gridlock in the nation’s largest port complex is almost guaranteed because most of the vessel arrivals at the ports occur on the weekend.

Shipping lines and terminal operators employ more than 600 OCU members in processing shipping documents in the port complex. They have been working without a contract since June 2010. OCU President John Fageaux said the main concern of his members is the employers’ use of computer technology to outsource jobs.

The OCU on its own is not able to shut down cargo-handling at the ports. Rather, by posting picket lines at the terminals, the OCU wins the support of ILWU longshoremen who refuse to cross the lines and work the docks. The OCU is affiliated with the larger ILWU, but each union has its own contract.

Technically, to stop ILWU dockworkers from crossing the picket lines, an arbitrator must confirm the OCU action as a bona fide picket. On Tuesday, local arbitrator David Miller ruled the OCU job action at the APM terminal in Los Angeles was not bona fide.

Miller ordered the ILWU dockworkers to report to their jobs at the APM facility for Wednesday’s day shift, but the longshoremen defied the arbitrator and refused to work.

The OCU on Wednesday posted pickets at all 10 terminals where they work. Fageaux said that later Wednesday, in a second ruling, Miller determined that the OCU had a bona fide picket line.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates and administers the coastwide contract between waterfront employers and ILWU dockworkers, appealed Wednesday to the joint coast labor relations committee, but no decision was announced as of late Wednesday afternoon.

The Harbor Employers Association, which represents the 14 shipping lines and terminal operators that have contracts with the OCU, took exception to the union’s contention that employers are outsourcing OCU work.

“This claim simply is not true,” the employers group said in a release. “Not one OCU job has been sent overseas, or anywhere else.” In fact, employers have offered the OCU access to their computer database, including audit trails. Grievance procedures would result in monetary penalties against employers that outsource work.

Stephen Berry, the attorney representing employers in the negotiations, said the outsourcing claim is a “red herring.” The OCU has never filed a single arbitration claim charging outsourcing, he said.

The employers have proposed wages that would reach approximately $90,000 per worker per year by 2016 and pensions of up to $75,000 a year, the release stated.

At the heart of the contract dispute is the OCU’s insistence in promoting featherbedding by requiring employers to call in temporary employees and hire new employees even when there is no work to perform, Berry said.

Cargo interests and carriers are looking nervously toward the weekend and the crush of expected cargo. Fageaux said he’s always willing to listen to employers. “I hope they reach out to me. I will be prepared to talk,” he said.

Berry responded that it was the OCU that rejected the employers’ contract offer, walked out of negotiations earlier in the week and turned down the employers’ offer to seek federal mediation.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” Berry said. “If this continues, there is no doubt there will be gridlock at the ports and the nation’s commerce will suffer.”

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bmongelluzzo@joc.com and follow him at twitter.com/billmongelluzzo.