Ports open again as strikers return to work

Workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach returned to work on Wednesday, December 5 after clerks belonging to OCU Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and their employers reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. Members must still ratify the new agreement.

The clerks, logistics experts who process documentation about shipping cargo, went on strike ten days ago to demand protections against outsourcing in their new contract.

Employers had resisted including these protections, and for two years, the clerks worked under the terms of an expired contract as the union and employers continued to negotiate on the issue.

Sensing that the employers were not bargaining in good faith, about 70 Local 63 members on November 26 walked off their jobs at one terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. They were joined by others, and by the end of the second day of the strike, 450 Local 63 members at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach had walked off the job.

Dockworkers belonging to ILWU Local 13 refused to cross Local 63’s picket lines, effectively shutting operations at 10 of the 14 terminals at the two ports.

The tentative agreement was reached Tuesday night after Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa demanded that the two sides convene in federal mediator assisted talks.

Details of the tentative agreement have not been released pending a vote by union members, but ILWU leaders are calling the agreement a victory.

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath called the tentative agreement a victory for the striking workers. “Four hundred fifty office clerical workers ended their one-week strike to secure good jobs for working families in the harbor community by winning new protections that will help prevent jobs from being outsourced to Texas, Taiwan, and beyond,” read an ILWU media release.

After the tentative agreement was reached, Mayor Villaraigosa told Reuters that “the employers are not going to outsource.”

Reuters also reported that Local 63 members who gathered at a waterfront community center to receive a briefing about the tentative agreement were “jubilant” and that union members were smiling and clapping each other on the back.

The strike itself was a strike about solidarity. The employers had promised Local 63 members job security if they would accept the outsourcing of work through attrition; that is, if they would allow the work of people who retired or quit to be outsourced.

The employers had already begun outsourcing some work and planned to outsource more.

Local 63 members are highly qualified logistics experts. Their average annual salary is $84,000, and they have excellent benefits.

Most Local 63 members are women from working class backgrounds, and they wanted to make sure that these good paying jobs are available to the next generation of port logistics experts. They reasoned that the only way to do so was to draw a line in the sand against future outsourcing.

They also realized that if their employers continued to outsource through attrition there would come a time when they would lose the leverage they needed to protect their jobs and its benefits in future negotiations.

The strike was an act of solidarity in another sense as well. The 450 strikers were supported by 10,000 dockworkers who refused to cross Local 63’s picket lines.

“This victory was accomplished because of support from the entire ILWU family of 10,000 members in the harbor community,” said McEllrath.

Local 63 President John Fageaux echoed McEllrath and said that the strike was about standing up for the working class rather than narrow self interest of a few. “This was community effort that will benefit working families for years to come,” Fageaux said.


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