It’s been a while since a group of 800 port clerical workers have worked under a contract, but late Tuesday night the workers and terminal operators hammered out a tentative contract that will last until 2016 — ending a strike that crippled the nation’s largest port complex for the last eight days.
Workers who are a part of the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) Local 63 OCU (Office Clerical Unit) began striking Nov. 27 at the Port of Los Angeles, something that spilled over into the Port of Long Beach by Nov. 28 — shutting down three out of the six terminals there.
On Tuesday, sides seemed to be getting closer, officials said, but they still were not agreeing on a final resolution. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the public and said he had convinced the sides to meet with a federal mediator.
Villaraigosa returned to the bargaining table at about 8:30 p.m. The federal mediation team arrived shortly before 9 p.m. By about 10 p.m., a tentative agreement was reached on a new contract between the terminal operators and the OCU.
“There was some ongoing negotiating over the course of the day and progress was being made,” said Steve Getzug, spokesman for the Harbor Employers Association. “There was a lot of pressure building. Both sides understood the mediators were on the way and that it had been going on for eight days, and both sides realized the need for compromise — and a deal was reached.”
The deal includes wage and pension increases for the OCU members, an acknowledgement that technology can continue to be implemented that elevates customer service and operators will get some flexibility in hiring decisions for fulltime and temporary workers, Getzug said.
The OCU, on the other hand, is now satisfied with the language in the contract in regards to technology and the potential for outsourcing jobs to remote locations, said Local 63 President John Fageaux.
“Over the last week or so, the commitment has been there from both sides to end this strike and do whatever is necessary to get people back to work,” he said. “I think in a battle like this, nobody comes out with everything they want. I think that is what makes a successful contract. We gained some contract language we believe protects us and secures our work from outsourcing. I think the employers gained in staffing control, which allows them to address some economic concerns.”
Both sides gave some credit to Villaraigosa for helping in talks, and also credited the federal mediation, if not directly, for giving some urgency to the evening on Tuesday.
The OCU still will need to completely ratify the pact during the next week or so, officials said, but the main framework was voted on, and they are confident there will be no hiccups moving forward.
Economic experts have said that a shorter strike is fairly easy to make up, but since this one went into a second week, it could be late into next week before operations normalize. Terminal shutdowns can have a chain reaction, impacting truckers, brokers and retailers.
There has been labor tension between the OCU and terminal operators since July 2010, when the last contract ended. OCU members had been working for two and a half years without a contract. This new one will last until June 30, 2016. All terminals were back open at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
“We welcome the news that the parties have reached a tentative agreement and the workers are now back at our terminals,” said Daniel Yi, Port of Long Beach spokesman. “If anything, this has underscored how important the port is to the economy. Now we can go from monitoring the stoppage to getting back to work. We’ll work with the operators and do what we can to expedite the work.”
About 17 ships were diverted from the port complex as a whole — mostly to Mexico and Oakland. Some will come back and unload their entire cargo, but there will be some cargo that is lost and unloaded elsewhere, officials said.
It is difficult to pin down exactly how large an economic impact the strike has had, or will have. Some experts pontificated that the shutdown caused $1 billion of damage to the economy a day.
Port officials argued that number was potentially an exaggeration. Those officials estimated that roughly $650 million of cargo sat idle daily, and much of that would still get to its proper destination. The loss would likely come from what delays would do to pricing and selling.
The work stoppage was one of the largest in recent memory.
“It’s rare for lockouts to hit more than one terminal at a time and for more days like this has,” said Art Wong, port spokesman.
For now, officials from all around expressed happiness that the rehabilitation process could begin.
“I’m gratified that everybody came to a resolution to get people back to work, particularly around the holiday time,” Mayor Bob Foster said, noting he was in regular contact with both sides. “It’s good we can get cargo moving again. This is big around the country, where these goods are used everywhere. The one thing I was getting really worried about was any long-term damage this could cause to the reputation of the Port of Long Beach.”
Getzug echoed the sentiment, saying he was hopeful there would be no lingering effects from the work stoppage.
“The hope is that with this contract and with continued good customer service, that we can continue to be the gateway of choice,” he said.
Fageaux said his peers were ready to go on Wednesday morning.
“There’s going to be a backup, but my people are very eager to get back to work,” he said. “We’re going to make our best effort to take care of the ships that are out there as quickly as possible.”