Strike Continues at SoCal Ports

The job action involves clerical workers and those who track shipments by computer. They say the big shipping lines want to outsource jobs.

By Sharon Bernstein and Patrick Healy
|  Wednesday, Nov 28, 2012  |  Updated 9:40 PM PDT
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Dockworkers are observing picket lines thrown up by unionized clerical workers who say they are fighting to keep their jobs from being outsourced. A strike that began Tuesday spread Wednesday throughout the nation's busiest port complex. Patrick Healy reports from the Port of Long Beach for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2012.

Patrick Healy

Dockworkers are observing picket lines thrown up by unionized clerical workers who say they are fighting to keep their jobs from being outsourced. A strike that began Tuesday spread Wednesday throughout the nation's busiest port complex. Patrick Healy reports from the Port of Long Beach for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2012.

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Picketing by striking clerical workers has led to virtually the complete shutdown of cargo operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, ordinarily the world's busiest port complex..

The strike, initially launched Tuesday at one cargo terminal in the Port of Los Angeles, expanded  Wednesday to include a majority of the eight cargo terminals, and spread to half  the cargo terminals at the nearby Long Beach Port. 

The strike was called by the Marine Clerks Association, also known as the Office Clerical Unit of Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing some 800 clerks and clerical workers at the ports' cargo terminals.  What gave the action more weight was the refusal of Longshoremen from a sister local  to cross picket lines, thus bringing dockside cargo loading and unloading to a halt at all but a handful of terminals not targeted by the strike.

The Marine Clerks have been without a contract for two years, and during this period have staged two prior work actions.  Negotiations broke off again Monday night.  The workers are protesting plans by 14 companies that bring ships into the docks to allow offsite employees to use computer portals to track the movement of goods into the port, said John Fagueaux, President of the Office Clerical Unit of Local 63.   This could lead to the companies moving jobs to other cities or even out of country, Fagueaux said.

The Terminals, represented by the Harbor Employers Association, said they are willing to stipulate  no downsizing in jobs.  The Association contends the actual stalemate issue is the union's demand that members from the hiring hall be brought in to fill any temporary vacancies created by clerical workers taking vacation time or other days off.  As it is now, the clerical workers are entitled to be off work 29% of the year, according to Stephen Berry, attorney for the Employers Assocication. 

To temporarily replace those workers would be "featherbedding," Berry said, adding that the Employers refuse to agree to that. 

Tuesday, the Employers obtained an arbitrator's ruling that the initial strike action was "not bona fide," based in part on the theory that  singling out only one terminal for picketing put it at an unfair disadvantage.  When  the union expanded  the picketing to other terminals, the finding became moot, Berry acknowledged. 

The ports themselves are not directly involved in the labor negotiations, and citing that reason, port officials have declined to comment on the situation, other than to express hope for a speedy resolution.

The twin ports serve as Asia's largest commercial gateway to America, and receive an enormous volume of cargo goods, from steel and automobiles, to clothing and consumer electronics.  Containers are lifted between dock and ship by giant cranes left idle by the shutdowns. 

Union officials declined to speculate how long the strike will last, but would not be surprised by an attempt to obtain an injunction or other legal measures to compel an end to the picketing, according to Craig Merilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union..

The strike has created "chaos and uncertainty," according to a statement posted Wednesday on the Employers website.  If the strike continues, it could cause significant harm to the national economy, Berry said, and shippers would have to explore other options.

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