Deal reached to end major US port strike: LA mayor

BACK TO WORK::The strike raised concerns that closure of the ports could further hobble a sluggish US economy and dent expected gains from the holiday season


Thu, Dec 06, 2012 - Page 15

Negotiators have reached an outline agreement to end a weeklong strike crippling the US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle 40 percent of US maritime imports, mainly from Asia.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the deal late on Tuesday after taking part in marathon negotiations the night before, and the union said it expected to ratify the deal and resume work yesterday.

The strike by clerical workers at the key US transport gateway, which constitutes the world’s seventh-biggest commercial harbor, has been costing billions of dollars to the local and wider US economy.

Union officials said late on Tuesday they had succeeded in winning new protections to prevent jobs from being outsourced.

“This was a community effort that will benefit working families for many years to come,” said John Fageaux, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63-OCU.

Stephen Berry, chief negotiator for the Harbor Employers Association, said: “Tonight is the end of a very long journey.”

“Both sides had principles that are very important to them,” he said. “The employers have struggled since the global economic crisis in 2008. Cargo volumes have dropped and they’ve not returned to those levels.”

The strike by about 800 clerical staff from the ILWU began at a terminal in Los Angeles port on Tuesday last week, but spread to six other terminals and Long Beach the next day.

About 10,000 ILWU members have honored the picket call, shutting down 10 of the 14 cargo container terminals at the complex.

The striking clerical workers said they had been without contracts since June 2010, and the two sides had argued over whether the employers could outsource the jobs of union workers who retired or left for other employment.

The strike raised concerns that closure of the ports could further hobble the already sluggish US economy and dent expected gains from the holiday season.

The National Retail Federation said that the recovery from a 10-day lockout of West Coast ports in 2002 took six months and cost the economy an estimated US$1 billion a day.

More than 95 percent of cargo passing through Los Angeles is trade with Asia, mainly with China and Japan, according to its Web site, which put the value of last year’s cargo trade with China/Hong Kong at US$136 billion.

The Long Beach port supports more than 30,000 jobs locally, 316,000 jobs in southern California and 1.4 million jobs throughout the US, according to its Web site.

The strike had forced container ships to divert to other ports in California, notably Oakland, up the coast near San Francisco, and Mexico.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that US President Barack Obama was concerned about the West Coast strike.