A strike has been called in a long simmering labor dispute that pits a small union of clerical workers against some of the world's largest ocean shipping lines and cargo terminal operators.
About 67 workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63's Office Clerical Unit set up a picket line outside the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. The terminal and surrounding facility is also known as Pier 400.
At 484 acres, it is the biggest and busiest cargo terminal in the Americas for containerized freight. Steel containers averaging 20 feet to 40 feet in length are used to ship everything from expensive finished goods such as electronics to bulk items like grains and feeds.
Only the APM terminal, which was no longer moving cargo Tuesday, has been affected by the picket line.
Every other terminal at the Port of Los Angeles and at the neighboring Port of Long Beach remained open for business.
The 800-member Office Clerical Unit is affiliated with the ILWU, the union that handles cargo for every West Coast seaport, but it negotiates its labor contracts separately.
The clerical workers handle much of the paperwork involved in the loading and unloading of vessels.
Negotiations on a new contract began months before the old agreement expired June 30, 2010.
The contract talks have broken off several times in the past and picket lines have formed, but both sides eventually sat down to try to hammer out an agreement.
They may return to the bargaining table this time as well, say union officials, whose major grievance was the fear that management is trying to outsource jobs to nonunion labor.
“We’ve been meeting with the companies for more than two years, but they’re still concealing their outsourcing -- even when they’ve been caught red-handed,” said Local 63 Office Clerical Unit President John Fageaux.
Perhaps even more significant than the picket line was that the longshore union that loads and unloads ships at port was honoring it and refusing to work at the terminal.
"These are powerful multinational corporations who aren’t respecting the local communities,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe.
“These guys can outsource a good paying job to Taipei with the push of a button, and seem to care less how it impacts a family living in the Harbor area,” he added.
Management negotiations are being conducted by the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Assn., which represents ocean shipping lines and terminal operators.
The management group said in a statement that it has offered the union "absolute job security" and what it called generous increases in wages and pension benefits.
The statement also accused the union of “'featherbedding,' the practice of requiring employers to call in temporary employees and hire new permanent employees even when there is no work to perform."
Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said port officials were hoping that a solution could be found quickly.
"We know both sides understand the critical importance of keeping cargo moving through the San Pedro Bay port complex," Sanfield said. "We urge them to work diligently toward finding a mutually agreeable solution."