Port Clerks Submit Latest Proposal In Labor Talks

Tuesday, July 17th 2007, 7:05 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ After hours of negotiations, office clerks at the nation's largest port complex and their employers agreed to postpone talks because the lead negotiator for the companies needed to handle a family medical issue.

The parties have been at the bargaining table since Sunday afternoon, attempting to reach a settlement and avert a possible shutdown of the docks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Talks were scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.

The office clerical unit of Local 63, a division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, submitted its latest proposal Monday evening, and by the time the talks broke off, the shipping companies and terminal operators were considering it.

The 15,000-member ILWU has indicated that longshoremen would honor picket lines if the 750 clerks strike, which would effectively shut down loading and unloading operations at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Local 63 clerical union president John Fageaux declined to provide specifics of the union's latest proposal, but said there were sticking points on wages, job security and health and pension benefits.

He said the union initially decided to submit a ``last, best and final offer'' Monday afternoon but changed its mind later in the day.

Steve Berry, lead negotiator for the 14 marine terminal operators and other firms who employ the office clerks, said one counterproposal was given to the union around 6 p.m.

``We're working hard. We just keep going,'' said Berry, who had to attend to the family medical issue.

The port complex accounts for 40 percent of all the cargo container traffic coming into the United States.

A work stoppage could create ripple effects throughout many industries that depend on timely movement of cargo. It also would come as the ports enter their busy pre-holiday season, when shippers depend on the facilities to handle imports.

The clerks work at marine terminals and handle bookings for the export of cargo and other transport documents.

Under their most recent contract, full-time, port clerical workers earned about $37.50 an hour, or $78,000 a year. They also receive a pension, health care benefits free of premiums, and 20 paid holidays a year.

Berry said the employers' latest offer included raises that over the life of a three-year contract would bump the employees' hourly pay to $39.50; the union is seeking increases that would equal $53 per hour by the last year of the contract.

In 2002, longshore workers across the West Coast were locked out for 10 days over a contract dispute. The shutdown cost the nation's economy an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a day.