Contract negotiations resumed Friday as a crippling strike by longshore clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reached its fourth day.
The two sides were to meet at Banning's Landing in Wilmington. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit, which represents 800 workers, and the Harbor Employers Association, which represents 14 shipping companies, met Thursday evening for the first time since the strike began Tuesday.
On Friday afternoon, officials at the side-by-side ports, which share the country's busiest shipping basin, jointly cheered the resumption of talks, citing the local and global impact of idle commerce:
"Combined, the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach move 40 percent of all containerized trade in the country," a ports update read. "The more than $300 billion worth of goods that flow through the two ports help support close to 3 million jobs across the country, including dockworkers, truck drivers, rail yard workers, warehouse clerks and others up and down the supply chain."
On Thursday night, the two sides discussed processes necessary to keep the talks going and the urgency to end the walkout. The morning meetings were expected to get to the substance of the stalemate -- language in the contract that addresses whether or not the shipping companies can hire workers outside of the port to help direct cargo traffic.
John Fageaux, president of the clerical workers union, said the language remains the key sticking point and accuses the shipping companies of outsourcing some of the clerical workers' functions. The Harbor Employers Association vehemently denies outsourcing any jobs.
``If they're not outsourcing, then they shouldn't have a problem with the language we're proposing to prevent outsourcing,'' Fageaux said. Stephen Berry, the lead negotiator for the Harbor Employers Association, said ``not one OCU job has been sent overseas, or anywhere else.''
Berry accused the union of ignoring a contract proposal that would offer workers guaranteed job protection and somewhere in the range of $42-$43 per hour in wages, regardless of the workload at the port. Fageaux said the union was prepared to stay at the negotiating table as long as necessary to end the strike.
On Friday, another HEA spokeman said:
"Representatives of the harbor employers met [Thursday] night with OCU leadership in an effort to reach a fair compromise to end the strike initiated by OCU employees.... But the OCU pickets remain -- and with them, a range of harmful repercussions for tens of thousands of people whose livelihood in the port communities and beyond depends on the cargo moving through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The employers remain committed to reaching a fair agreement as quickly as possible.
"The 600 clerks involved in this strike -- the highest paid office clerical workers in America, and who have been offered absolute job guarantees and compensation boosts -- continue to put their own self-interests first."
The Harbor Employers Association offered the most recent contract proposal on Monday, the day before the walkout began. Thousands of longshoremen, also represented by the ILWU, continued to honor the picket lines Friday at 10 of 14 shipping terminals in the harbor, bringing cargo traffic at the nation's busiest port complex to barely a crawl.
At least seven ships rerouted to other ports as of Thursday, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors shipping traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It's unclear whether the ships were just reshuffling itineraries and planning to circle back to L.A. when the strike ends or rerouting cargo that translates into lost work for longshoremen in L.A. and Long Beach.
On Thursday, political and business leaders seeking to avert economic damage pressured both sides to come to an agreement. (State Senator and U.S. Representative-elect Alan Lowenthal supports the ILWU.) The head of the National Retail Federation sent a letter to the White House urging the president to use his leverage to end the strike.
``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 the letter to Obama.
The strike is the largest work stoppage since a 10-day lockout at the ports in 2002, which drew then-President George W. Bush's involvement. That lockout led to significant retail supply chain disruptions that took six months to recover from and cost the economy an estimated $1 billion a day, according to the Retail Federation.
The port of Los Angeles executive director said Thursday that hundreds of thousands of jobs are impacted by this week's strike, and the full-court press to return to negotiations seemed to have worked Friday.
Patch will update this story so check back for more breaking news, and keep up by subscribing to your local site newsletter here.
--City News Service contributed to this story.