Negotiating teams approved a contract Tuesday night that would end the crippling strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Patrick Healy reports from the Port of LA for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2012.
An agreement was reached Tuesday night to end the crippling strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that has dragged on for more than a week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
"Just a few short weeks ago we had the shuttle Endeavour in LA, so I think it's appropriate to say, 'Mission Accomplished,'" said Villaraigosa, surrounded by union leaders and negotiators during a news conference at the Port of Los Angeles.
The announcement came just hours after federal mediators arrived at the port, called on by Villaraigosa to help resolve a strike that has idled most of the docks for some eight days.
"Knowing all the difficulties of the process of collective bargaining, in the final analysis, it worked," said George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
"The parties reached their own agreement. There is no question in my mind that collective bargaining is the best example of industrial democracy in action," Cohen said to a round of applause.
Cohen along with Scot Beckencaugh, deputy director for mediation services, arrived Tuesday night to begin talks between shipping and union officials, though it appeared they weren't involved in the vote, which began nearly simultaneously with their arrival.
The work stoppage was staged by clerical workers who use computers to help track the progress of shipments into and out of the nation's busiest port complex. Those clerical employees belong to the same union as the ports' longshore workers, which stood in solidarity with their colleagues.
"I’m really pleased to tell all of you that my 10,000 longshore workers on the ports of LA Long Beach are gonna start moving cargo on these ships," said Ray Familathe, international vice president of the International Longshore Warehouse Union.
"We’re gonna get these hips services and get cargo moved throughout the supply chain and the country and get everybody those Christmas presents that they’re looking for in those stores."
The punishing strike prompted the mayor to fly back from a trip abroad to help bring an end to the work stoppage.
Villaraigosa, who had been in Latin America pitching Southern California's port operations to manufacturers, shippers and retailers there, arrived at the harbor at about 11 p.m. Monday, joining the negotiations in the hope of brokering a deal.
Tuesday morning, he said, he called to request help from a federal mediator. The mayor said he also discussed the matter with California's two Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and that he has placed a call to the White House.
Despite claims by both sides that they had made significant concessions in the talks so far, Villaraigosa said at a news conference earlier in the day that neither had moved on issues of top concern to the other.
In particular, he said, the union, which is worried about outsourcing jobs, might need to compromise on other issues to get movement on its top priority.
As the talks dragged on, the clerical workers continued to walk picket lines.
Each side blamed the other for the slow pace of negotiations.
John Fageaux, spokesman for Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said his organization had backed down on a demand that the companies re-hire 51 positions that the union said had been outsourced, but received no productive response from the employers.
But Stephen Berry, an attorney representing the shipping companies, said those jobs had never been outsourced in the first place. Instead, he said, they represented positions that had been held by clerical workers who were not replaced after they retired.
For his part, Berry said that the shipping companies had agreed to one of the union’s key demands, saying that they would hire certain temporary workers from the union’s hiring hall, rather than going to outside contractors.
But he said that the union was not satisfied with that offer. He said the union failed to recognize that the economy had still not recovered from the boom years.
The stoppage at 10 of the port's 14 terminals will not affect holiday shipments, experts said, because the toys, books, electronics and clothes aimed at the gift market arrived months ago.
But Villaraigosa said it affected about 20,000 truck drivers, retailers and others who are awaiting shipments for upcoming seasons.