Los Angeles Business Journal

Both Sides in Port Strike Agree to Mediation

By James Rufus Koren Originally published December 4, 2012 at 2:26 p.m., updated December 4, 2012 at 12:26 p.m.

Port clerks and their shipping company employers agreed Tuesday to work with a federal mediator in an attempt to end a strike that has shut down most of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for the past week.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced this morning that the two sides had agreed to mediation after an all-night bargaining session.

“I am heartened that both parties continue to negotiate with a renewed sense of urgency,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “I am hopeful that they can reach a deal to end the strike as soon as possible.”

The strike has closed 10 of the 14 cargo terminals at the local ports. Several ships bound for Los Angeles and Long Beach have instead sailed to Oakland or Ensenada, Mexico, to unload cargo bound for Southern California. In some cases, cargo owners will have to pay the extra cost to pick up and transfer cargo from those ports.

Union Pacific Railroad on Monday said it would no longer accept cargo containers bound for the Southern California ports, likely concerned about storing containers while waiting for terminals to reopen.

Manufacturers are watching the situation closely. Representatives for Toyota and Honda, both of which manufacture cars in the United States with parts imported through local ports, said they are evaluating the situation but haven’t announced any production disruptions.

“There’s no immediate impact on North American operations, but that could change if the strike lasts long enough, said Marcos Frommer, a Honda spokesman.

The strike by office clerks, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Local 63 Office and Clerical Unit, or OCU, started Nov. 27 at a single terminal in Los Angeles and spread to other terminals the next day. Longshore workers are honoring the clerical workers’ picket lines.

The OCU and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, which represents terminal operators, have been negotiating for more than two years. The most recent contract expired in July 2010. The union says shipping companies have cut 51 workers through attrition over the past few years by farming work out to non-union employees in Texas and Taiwan.

The employers say the union agreed to let terminal operators reduce the number of employees through attrition and that the latest contract offer to the union includes a promise of total job security, as well as a significant raise. The employers say the average OCU worker makes $165,000 annually, and that the new offer would raise that to $195,000.