Strike slows activity at busy Calif. port complex

A strike has dramatically slowed activity at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation's busiest cargo complex – despite renewed efforts to end the walkout.

Nick Ut/AP
Striking workers walk the picket line outside the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles. A strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach entered its fourth day on Friday despite efforts to end the walkout that has idled most of the nation's busiest cargo complex

A strike dramatically slowed activity at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation's busiest cargo complex – despite renewed efforts to end the walkout.

Seven of eight terminals in Los Angeles and three of six in Long Beach were closed to cargo container traffic Friday, the fourth day of the walkout, as dockworkers refused to cross picket lines set up by union clerical workers who claim shippers are outsourcing their jobs.

Officials said labor talks were being held but there's been no indication a deal is imminent.

The walkout involves clerical workers from a chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, who typically make more than $160,000 a year. Dockworkers are a separate unit of the same union.

The clerical workers' contracts with 14 terminal operators expired 2½ years ago. Ongoing contract talks broke off on Monday then resumed on Thursday, ran until midnight and were scheduled to continue on Friday.

The chief negotiator for the shippers remained hopeful about a resolution, saying the talks have been professional and courteous.

"There's a mutual commitment to go forward," said Stephen Berry of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association. "The employers remain hopeful that there will be a quick resolution and we can get the cargo flowing again."

There were a handful of picketers at each terminal on Friday, said Phillip Sanfield, Los Angeles port spokesman.

Combined, Los Angeles and Long Beach handle 40 percent of the nation's import trade.

At least 18 cargo ships have been unable to load or unload since workers began the strike on Tuesday. A handful of vessels that were anchored offshore apparently left for other ports, Sanfield said.

There was no immediate word on how much the strike is costing the ports. November generally is a slower time for the ports because most holiday goods already have been handled.

However, there were concerns that a continued widespread strike could prompt retaliation from terminal operators. A bitter 10-day lockout at a number of West Coast ports in 2002 caused an estimated $15 billion in losses.

"Both sides in this dispute understand the critical importance of keeping cargo moving through the San Pedro Bay complex," said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz. "Time is of the essence and we urge a mutually agreeable resolution as soon as possible so that we can return to full operations."

At issue is the union's contention that terminal operators have outsourced local clerical jobs out of state and overseas – an allegation the shippers deny.

Shippers deny outsourcing and have offered lifelong job security to the 600 or so full-time clerical workers, Berry said.

They also have offered to boost average annual pay from $165,000 to $195,000 and grant 11 weeks of paid vacation, he said.

The shippers claim the union wants contract language to permit "featherbedding" – the practice of requiring employers to call in temporary employees and hire new permanent employees even when there is no work to perform

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