Clerical workers strike shuts down operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

About 70 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, who work as clerks walked off the job at the APM Terminal’s Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 27,  to protest outsourcing. The terminal is the largest at the Port of Los Angeles.

The mostly female workers were ordered by an arbitrator to return to work on Wednesday, but the clerks remained on strike, were joined by union clerks at other terminals, and set up pickets at nine terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Longshore workers who belong to another ILWU local have refused to cross the strikers’ picket lines, effectively closing operations at picketed terminals.

The striking clerks belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Marine Clerks Association Local 63 Office Clerical Unit. Local 63 represents about 800 clerks at ports up and down the West Coast. The clerks process shipping documents and perform other clerical duties.

For more than two years they have worked under an expired contract. The clerks and the 14 shipping companies that employ them have not been able to reach agreement on a new contract.

The main sticking point has been outsourcing. “We’ve been meeting with the companies for more than two years, but they’re still concealing their outsourcing – even when they’ve been caught red-handed,” said John Fageaux, president of Local 63. “These employers seem to have an insatiable appetite for outsourcing.”

During the last five years, according to Local 63, 51 jobs performed by unionized clerical staff on the West Coast have been outsourced to Texas and overseas. The companies have announced plans to outsource another 76 in the future.

With the advances that have been made in data processing, it is now much easier for international companies like the ones who employ Local 63 members to contract out the documentation that must accompany all goods shipped to the ports.

The strikers say that thanks to the union their jobs are well paid and have good benefits. They provide a decent middle-class living for these workers. But if the outsourcing is allowed to continue, these good paying jobs will be endangered.

The employers for the last two years have failed to listen to their workers concerns.

“It just comes down to corporate greed,” said Darlene Zuvich, who has processed bills and other record-keeping tasks for Evergreen America Corporation since 1992.  “These companies have the same attitude as the ones on Wall Street – they think they’re better than the rest of us and can’t be worried about the problems that families face in this community.”

Last week Local 63 members decided to strike if the companies continue to insist on outsourcing their work.

“We’ve been patiently negotiating with these big companies for the past 30 months, but they’re refusing to respect our community and want to keep outsourcing good jobs – so we’re drawing the line and standing-up for the community,” said Trinie Thompson, a longtime clerical worker who participated in the negotiations.

On Monday, November 26, the negotiations finally broke off, and the strike began Tuesday at noon.

The workers restricted their strike on Tuesday to Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles, but employers were concerned that the strike would spread to other terminals and other ports.

The employers acted quickly to dampen the strike. Tuesday afternoon the employers asked an arbitrator to intervene and force the union workers back to work. On Tuesday night, the arbitrator ruled that the union was bargaining in bad faith and ordered the strikers to return to work on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, the workers stayed on strike, and pickets returned to Pier 400. Pickets also appeared at other terminals at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

According to a press statement from the Harbor Employers Association, which represents the clerks’ employers, “after picketing for approximately one hour, (Local 63 members) returned to work at some harbor employers’ off-terminal facilities, but remained on strike at the terminals, shutting down operations in the ports.”

The union and representatives of the shipping companies continued to talk on Wednesday to try to resolve the dispute. A Coast-Wide Arbitrator is set to take up the case soon. Until then, the strike will likely continue unless there is a break through in negotiations.

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