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Talks resume on Sunday but strike still crippling ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Contract talks between striking clerical workers and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach resumed on Sunday but the labor action continues to cripple these two ports critical to the North American supply chain.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Contract talks between striking clerical workers and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach resumed on Sunday but the labor action continues to cripple these two ports critical to the North American supply chain.

As of Sunday seven container terminals at the Port of Los Angeles were not in operation. 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.

Three of the six container terminals at the Port of Long Beach were closed. These terminals were Long Beach Container Terminal at Pier F, International Transportation Service at Pier G and Total Terminals International at Pier T. The following terminals were operating; SSAT at Pier A, SSAT/Matson at Pier C and Pacific Container Terminal at Pier J.

Clerical workers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, have been picketing seven of eight Los Angeles terminals and three of six Long Beach terminals even though an arbitrator ruled their walkout last Tuesday as invalid.  What has greatly escalated the situation is that dockworkers from the same union, who number more than 7,000, are refusing to cross the picket lines, shutting down cargo handling operations at the facilities. The resulting slowdown, entering its seventh day on Monday, has cost the busy complex about a billion dollars a day, port officials say.

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles said it’s essential the two sides work to resolve their differences quickly.

“We are starting to see ships divert to other ports, including to Mexico. 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,” Knatz said. “…Both sides in this dispute understand the critical importance of keeping cargo moving through the San Pedro Bay complex. Time is of the essence and we urge a mutually agreeable resolution as soon as possible so that we can return to full operations.”

Combined, the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles move 40 percent of all containerized trade in the US.

At least 18 ships at the harbors were not being serviced due to ILWU members refusing to cross picket lines, port spokesmen said. Four of ships that should have been gone by now are still parked at the dock because they are unable to get their cargo unloaded. Ships have already diverted from the ports to Oakland, Mexico and Panama to avoid getting caught in chaos caused by the dispute.

Art Wong, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, says the reputation of the port is at stake.

“We see ourselves as a reliable customer service port complex that is supported by labor, shipping lines and the railroad and warehouse industry and we want it to be a reliable dependable industry,” he said. 

The situation has not yet reached crisis proportions at the largest port complex in the US, but if the terminals remained closed through the weekend as has now happened, some cargo interests and industry executives were predicting gridlock would result, the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association commented in its daily news bulletin. It added the main concern is that the backlog created each strike day would effectively choke the port before long.

The about 800 office clerical workers have been working without a contract since June 2010. They process shipping documents for the terminal operators and the shipping lines which call on them. A union spokesman told the Wall Street Journal the clerical workers fear their jobs are being outsourced to lower cost countries such as in Central America and Asia. But the port employers association states is branding the union’s concerns as a “myth” and told the Wall Street Journal it has “offered to guarantee no workers will be laid off, among other outsourcing protections.”

The more than $300 billion worth of goods that flow through the two ports annually 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.

The goods shipped into the ports include retail items such as furniture, auto parts and clothing. If the strike continues for more than a week, it’s possible that retailers could divert their goods to other ports, says Brian Dodge, spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The last work stoppage of this magnitude at the ports occurred a decade ago, during a worker lockout. During that event, Dodge says, retailers started using ports beyond Southern California. In some cases, they never returned to the area after the lockout was over.

“There were lasting impacts of the work stoppages in the West Coast that have hindered the growth of the activity at the ports on the West Coast,” Dodge says.

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