WE HAVE MOVED: Please visit The Union News blog: here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Longshore workers "ready" for megaport strike

Unionized clerical office workers moved closer to a Los Angeles and Long Beach waterfront strike Tuesday as labor negotiations with shippers and terminal operators reached a standstill. More than 900 clerical workers have been working without a contract since July 1, and union leaders indicate they may call for workers to walk off the job at any moment. "We're ready (this week) to take economic action if we have to," said John Fageaux Jr., the Local 63 Office Clerical Union boss. "If things don't get settled this week, (an employee walkout is) likely."

Union leaders representing some 7,000 longshoremen have said dockworkers would honor picket lines put up by the clerical workers, leading to a massive work slowdown in the nation's busiest seaport. The clerical union voted unanimously to allow its leaders to call a strike if negotiations stalled following the expiration of their last three-year contract on July 1.

Workers are seeking better health and welfare concessions and job protections from employers, and are using the 7,000 ILWU longshoremen as leverage.

Employers, meanwhile, are seeking more flexibility in the staffing of temporary workers, saying the past labor pact required them to fill positions whenever a regular employee called in sick, went on vacation or took a leave of absence, regardless of need.

On Tuesday, an attorney representing employers said talks had hit a wall following the union's counter-proposal to an offer of wage increases and better pension benefits for workers.

"We were very disappointed because it did not address any of our key proposals in any meaningful way," said Steve Berry, a lead negotiator for shippers and terminal operators. "We would have hoped that the union would give us a good-faith, meaningful response to our proposal."

Both sides agreed to meet again later Tuesday to see if any progress could be made.

Clerical workers affiliated with Local 63 staff the front offices of many shipping companies and marine terminals in and around San Pedro Bay, as well as the ILWU credit union.