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L.A. Ports Strike Ends, Focus Shifts East

Industry groups remained concerned over a looming deadline for contract talks between dockworkers and ocean carriers on the East Coast.

LOS ANGELES — The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach resumed full operations Wednesday following a tentative contract deal reached late Tuesday between representatives for the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Local 63 Office Clerical Unit and the Harbor Employers Association, while industry groups remained concerned over a looming deadline for contract talks between dockworkers and ocean carriers on the East Coast.

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Federal mediators were called in Tuesday by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to help end the eight-day strike that has cost the Southern California economy an estimated $8 billion. At 10:30 p.m., Villaraigosa emerged from the port-side talks with both negotiating teams to announce, “The ILWU voted to approve the contract.” While the agreement still needs to be ratified by the OCU’s 800 members, union officials said they expected it to pass. The clerical workers had been working without a contract since their previous one expired in June 2010.

Details of the new deal, which will last for six years retroactive to June 30, 2010, have not been released, but the mayor and OCU representatives said an agreement was reached on not outsourcing jobs to nonunion workers.

Stephen Berry, chief negotiator for the Harbor Employers Association, said, “We’re delighted with the terms.” Berry said the package included unspecified wage and pension increases. He also said there was added job security to the deal, that included a “no layoff” clause that would go into effect once ratified.

“This victory was accomplished because of support from the entire ILWU family of 10,000 members in the harbor community,” said ILWU International president Robert McEllrath on the union’s Web site.

While there were only 450 clerical workers when the strike began, the longshoremen and other union members who operate the ports honored the OCU’s picket lines, effectively shutting down 10 of the 14 terminals at the twin ports, which handle near 40 percent of shipped goods entering the U.S.

The strike at the nation’s business seaport complex was the longest since the 10-day walkout in 2002. At least 18 freighters bound for Los Angles and Long Beach during the strike were diverted to ports in Oakland, Calif., Mexico and Panama, according to the Maritime Exchange of Southern California. Many others idled for days at offshore anchorages, waiting to unload their containers.

“Retailers welcome the news that America’s two largest ports will resume operations and begin off-loading the hundreds of millions of dollars in cargo that has been stranded offshore for a week,” said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “Retailers will now turn their attention to the Gulf and East Coast ports where the Dec. 29 deadline to reach an agreement is rapidly approaching.”

The two sides are trying to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement covering workers at ports from Maine to Texas and affecting about 20 percent of all apparel, textiles and footwear trade. In 2011, the 14 ports handled more than 110 million tons of cargo.

Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, said, “Our attention now shifts to the East and Gulf Coast ports, where federal mediators have been locked in prolonged discussions with labor and management for the past two months. We urge the parties to reach a final agreement before their contract extension ends at the end of December. Retailers, manufacturers and the rest of the business community cannot afford another shutdown. Our economy cannot withstand another port disruption.”

Kevin Burke, president and ceo of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said more than four million U.S. apparel and footwear workers depend on the ports to move imports and exports.

“We hope the ports overcome delays and can return to normal operations before we begin to any experience long-term consequences of the strike,” Burke said. “We should now focus our attention on ensuring the stakeholders on the East Coast are negotiating in earnest to prevent a strike from ever happening.…Time is running out for a deal and our economy cannot handle another major work stoppage at some of America’s busiest ports.”

James A. Capo, chairman and ceo of the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) said Tuesday the East Coast port talks, also being supervised by the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, are ongoing. The USMX and International Longshoremen’s Association have been negotiating since March and agreed in September to extend their collective bargaining agreement covering East and Gulf Coast port workers for 90 days through Dec. 29. A statement on the ILA’s Web site says the union plans to hold a wage-scale committee meeting Dec. 10 to 13 in Delray Beach, Fla. The two sides said they reached an “agreement in principle” in July on issues involving the introduction of new technology and automation, as well as on maintenance and repair of chassis with marine terminals and at off-pier facilities in the East and Gulf Coast ports.