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Strike Day 3 Halts Work at U.S.'s Busiest Seaport

The Long Beach-L.A. shared shipping basin moves $1 billion dollars daily through the harbor and impacts tens of thousands in related jobs. National retail trade seeks presidential help.

A strike by about 500 unionized clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach halted most work at the nation's busiest harbor complex Thursday, with calls for presidential intervention in what threatens to impact the economy.

The combined ports complex moves $1 billion daily in goods and 40 percent of the country's seaborne cargo, including petroleum products. Workers from across Southern California have port-related jobs that drive the regional economy, with 10,000 ILWU dockside workers at the L.A.-L.B. ports, economists say.

And the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles warned that a longer work stoppage posed risks for not just the harbor workforce but hundreds of thousands of other jobs directly or indirectly linked to the ports.

 "We are starting to see ships divert to other ports, including to Mexico," announced Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of L.A., in a 3 p.m. statement. "This dispute has impacted not only our Port work force but all stakeholders who ship goods through our complex and potentially the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are directly and indirectly related to port operations. In today’s shipping environment, we can’t afford to lose cargo or our competitive advantage.”

Several dozen longshore clerks, who have been without a contract since June 30, 2010, walked off the job Tuesday at the Port of L.A.'s busiest terminal. The strike grew dramatically Wednesday to all but one of the L.A. port's terminals and three of six terminals at the Port of Long Beach.

Thousands of longshoremen -- also represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union -- have honored the picket line, bringing container cargo movement to a stop. The strike is the largest work stoppage at the ports since 2002, when a lockout by shipping companies caused President George W. Bush to seek a court injunction to resolve the labor standoff.

The strike has raised fears of ripple effects throughout the economy. The ports combined move about 40 percent of the nation's seaborne cargo, an estimated $1 billion worth of goods per day. The Los Angeles Times reports that the union's picket lines had at least the tacit approval of the larger, 50,000-member ILWU of dockworkers, clerks and other workers who handle all of the cargo on the west coasts of the U.S. and Canada and in Hawaii.

John Fageaux, president of ILWU Local 63's Office Clerical Unit, said he requested late Wednesday that the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association come back to the negotiating table.

"They refused by saying they were not prepared to make any movement from their current position," Fageaux said late Thursday morning. "We're prepared to strike as long as it takes."

The clerical workers union accuses the Harbor Employers Association, which represents 14 of the world's largest shipping companies, of using technology to outsource workers' jobs. John Berry, the lead negotiator for the employers, strongly disputed the claim.

"Not one OCU job has been sent overseas, or anywhere else," Berry said. On the contrary, Berry argued, the employers have guaranteed that no OCU workers will be laid off under a new contract and that they will be paid every week of the year.

The employers are also offering to self-impose fines every time a non-union employee performs union work, barring exceptions in the contract, Berry added.

The National Retail Federation called Thursday for President Barack Obama to step in to end the stalemate in contract negotiations. "A prolonged strike at the nation's largest ports would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay wrote in a letter to Obama.

"We call upon you to use all means necessary to get the two sides back to the negotiating table." The 10-day lockout in 2002 led to significant retail supply chain disruptions, which took six months to recover from and cost the economy an estimated $1 billion a day, according to the Retail Federation.

"An extended strike ... this time could have a greater impact considering the fragile state of the U.S. economy," Shay wrote.

White House officials were not immediately available for comment. The strike has raised the concern of local political officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who issued statements Wednesday.

"The City of Los Angeles needs both of you to get back to the bargaining table this week, to work with a mediator, and to hammer out a settlement before further harm is done to our local economy," Villaraigosa said. "There is no time to waste."

From the Port of L.A.'s home page Thursday:

"Due to labor action, seven container terminals at the Port of Los Angeles are not in operation as of Thursday, Nov. 29. Those terminals include China Shipping (Berth 100), Yang Ming (Berths 121-131), Yusen (Berths 212-225), Evergreen (Berths 226-236), APL (Berths 302-305) , APM (Berths 401-404) and California United (Berths 405-406). One container terminal, TraPac, remains open.

The Port is urging the parties involved in the dispute to work diligently toward finding a mutually agreeable solution."

Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Los Angeles, issued a statement siding with the striking clerical workers. "I stand in solidarity with the hard-working clerical workers, most of whom are women, of the ILWU Local 63's Office Clerical Unit who are striking today to prevent their jobs from being sent overseas," Hahn said. Berry said Wednesday that the Harbor Employers Association requested assistance from the National Mediation Board.

--City News Service and Nancy Wride contributed to this report.

Tim Sole November 30, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Coming from someone is pro-business and anti-union, as I am. They deserve this current job action If you can't fix something, whether it's employee problems or a business process in 2 years and 5 months, you are a complete idiot. In this case, fire the HR staff that caused the mess, the accounts who couldn't step up and the management team who are trained monkey outsources. Hire some "Americans" to manage the companies, who understand that we need everyone from the janitor to the CEO working. That means get rid of the MBA's and hire some good old fashioned, mustang-er, "White Shirts" to run the company.
Kathryn Wright November 30, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Anybody who doesn't want to work union is free to work overtime for no extra pay, have their job shipped overseas. Go decades without pay raises, be subject to sexual and racial discrimination, and lose their jobs on the employer's whim. Nobody is stopping you from this paradise.
gabyy November 30, 2012 at 09:58 PM
crazy how this work life works its all a domino effect if the LA/LB ports close,there is no work for the trucking companies and truck drivers being independent workers don't get any work and loose out on money and if they don't work no deliveries are being made and if deliveries aren't being made companies don't get their products and if they don't get their products we don't get what we and this is were Supply & Demand comes prices go up and that's when more crimes are being committed because of the very low supply there is and well a lot of people loose jobs this way that's why it not very beneficial to have unions because when they go on strike the domino effect begins. thankyou UNION WORKERS for leaving me without work.
WorkingAmerican December 01, 2012 at 09:23 AM
We dont strike for attention. No one wins. But dont be stupid and think the news is 100% legit. NO ONE GETS ANYTHING FOR FREE. even if cbs says so. If i was making 100k a year do u really think i would be out there? All this country's jobs have been sent overseas. There are no more labor jobs. We dont make anything in the US. we export empty containers. So u can get your iphone and your Nikes for christmas.
Rebecca Whitnall December 01, 2012 at 09:37 AM
A comment on this thread has been deleted for violating Patch's Terms of Use (which you can find here: http://woodlandhills.patch.com/terms). Healthy discussion is encouraged, but please refrain from personal attacks. Thank you!

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