Ports Re-Open After Crippling Strike

Pushed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and federal mediators, striking clerical workers and representatives of 14 shipping companies at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reached a tentative agreement late Tuesday

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach re-opened Wednesday after a crippling eight-day strike that idled most of the docks.

Ships backing up into the harbor at the world's busiest ports will finally be able to unload, allowing millions of dollars worth of products to come to market and providing work for an estimated 20,000 truckers and other workers whose own jobs were impacted by the strike.

The tentative agreement was reached Tuesday night, two hours after federal mediators joined the sometimes tense negotiations between clerical and computer workers and representatives of 14 shipping companies at the ports.

The roughly 800-member local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, all of them clerical workers who help track shipments at the ports, still must ratify the agreement. But they pulled their picket lines last night.

The approximately 10,000 longshore workers who were supporting them also said they would go back to work, clearing the way for the ports to re-open.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who flew back from a trip to Latin America to help broker an agreement, announced the deal last night. 

"Just a few short weeks ago we had the shuttle Endeavour in LA, so I think it's appropriate to say, 'Mission Accomplished,'" said Villaraigosa, surrounded by union leaders and negotiators during a news conference at the Port of Los Angeles.

Few details were available about the terms of the proposed new contract, but the main sticking point — the outsourcing of certain jobs — appears to have been resolved.

"I’m really pleased to tell all of you that my 10,000 longshore workers on the ports of LA Long Beach are gonna start moving cargo on these ships," said Ray Familathe, international vice president of the International Longshore Warehouse Union.

"We’re gonna get these ships services and get cargo moved throughout the supply chain and the country and get everybody those Christmas presents that they’re looking for in those stores."

The punishing strike prompted the mayor to fly back from a trip abroad to help bring an end to the work stoppage.

Villaraigosa, who had been in Latin America pitching Southern California's port operations to manufacturers, shippers and retailers there, arrived at the harbor at about 11 p.m. Monday, joining the negotiations in the hope of brokering a deal.

Tuesday morning, he said, he called to request help from a federal mediator. The mayor said he also discussed the matter with California's two Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and that he has placed a call to the White House.

Despite claims by both sides that they had made significant concessions in the talks, Villaraigosa said at a news conference on Tuesday that neither had moved on issues of top concern to the other.

In particular, he said, the union, which was worried about outsourcing jobs, might need to compromise on other issues to get movement on its top priority.

As the talks dragged on, the clerical workers continued to walk picket lines.

Each side blamed the other for the slow pace of negotiations.

John Fageaux, spokesman for Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said his organization had backed down on a demand that the companies re-hire 51 positions that the union said had been outsourced, but received no productive response from the employers.

But Stephen Berry, an attorney representing the shipping companies, said those jobs had never been outsourced in the first place. Instead, he said, they represented positions that had been held by clerical workers who were not replaced after they retired.

For his part, Berry said that the shipping companies had agreed to one of the union’s key demands, saying that they would hire certain temporary workers from the union’s hiring hall, rather than going to outside contractors.

But he said that the union was not satisfied with that offer. He said the union failed to recognize that the economy had still not recovered from the boom years.

The stoppage at 10 of the port's 14 terminals will not affect holiday shipments, experts said, because the toys, books, electronics and clothes aimed at the gift market arrived months ago.

But Villaraigosa said it affected about 20,000 truck drivers, retailers and others who are awaiting shipments for upcoming seasons.

To cope with the strike, some ships changed their itineraries in order to delay their stops in L.A. until after the work action was settled. 

For example, a number of vessels had planned to stop first in Los Angeles and then travel on to Oakland. Instead, they swapped those two destinations, heading first to the Bay Area port before then coming south to L.A., said Roberto Bernardo, a spokesman for the Port of Oakland.

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