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Long-running labor dispute heats up at ports of L.A., Long Beach

December 2, 2011 |  6:58 pm

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Picket lines went up outside four of the 14 cargo terminals at the nation's busiest seaport this afternoon after long-running contract negotiations between union and management representatives took a turn for the worse.

The dispute shut down operations at the four terminals when dockworkers honored the picket lines, but an independent arbitrator ruled at 4:30 p.m. that the dockworkers were to report back to work for the shift change at the terminals at 6 p.m.

The picket signs were hoisted by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's office clerical unit Local 63, a little-known group of about 900 workers who, in spite of their small numbers, could have the strength to shut down San Pedro Harbor's cargo business.

The facilities affected included Total Terminals International, used by the South Korean line Hanjin Shipping, at the Port of Long Beach. Also affected were three terminals at the Port of Los Angeles that are used by NYK Line, a Japanese carrier; the Taiwanese Evergreen Line; and China Shipping Container Lines, which is based in Shanghai.

About 10 people were on the picket line in Long Beach and an additional 25 were on the picket line at the Port of Los Angeles. The lines went up during a lunch break for longshore workers. The office clerical unit handles much of the paperwork associated with cargo movement at the ports.

It is affiliated with, but negotiates its contracts separately from, the larger, 15,000-strong West Coast-wide International Longshore Warehouse Union. But it is that affiliation with the larger group of dockworkers and marine clerks that gives the smaller union clout far beyond its size.

If the arbitrator had ruled that the smaller union's picket were "bona fide," in labor relations parlance, the parent union would have been bound to honor them.

So far, there were no picket lines at any of the other 10 terminals at the two ports, which together make up the world's sixth-busiest harbor. Work at those terminals was proceeding as usual.

The two sides have been negotiating off and on since before the last contract expired June 30, 2010. They appeared to be far apart in terms of a deal.

“We’re sick and tired of seeing these wealthy companies outsource good jobs that our communities desperately need now,” said John Fageaux, president of the clerical workers union. "We’re taking this action to help our communities stand up against the corporate greed that’s been wrecking America."

The companies painted a much different picture, accusing the union of "pressing demands that would weaken the competitiveness of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports while rewarding and sustaining absenteeism and inefficiency."

RELATED:

Railroads, unions stave off a strike

British workers fear pension overhaul

Labor relations board may be put out of work

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Shipping containers at the Port of Long Beach await loading onto ocean vessels for the long trip back to Asia. Work here and at the neighboring Port of Los Angeles could be shut down if an escalating labor fight spirals out of control. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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