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Clerks, shipping lines extend talks

Times Staff Writer

Contract talks between a small but powerful arm of the West Coast dockworkers’ union and 17 of the world’s largest shipping companies continued Sunday, with one labor leader saying that there had been progress toward an agreement.

The 930 members of office clerical unit Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union work out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach -- the nation’s busiest for cargo containers.

The local gave its unanimous approval Friday night for a strike if negotiations were not settled by midnight Saturday, when the old three-year contract officially expired.

But both sides agreed to stay at the table, and Local 63 President John Fageaux Jr. sounded hopeful as he headed into talks Sunday.

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“I believe there will be meaningful progress today. We will stay at the table as long as we need to get a deal done, unless we feel there is no movement,” Fageaux said.

A shipping line representative said he hoped the talks would follow the same pattern as in 2004, when an agreement was reached within two weeks of the July 1 contract expiration.

The representative spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Members of the office clerical unit handle all of the documentation and paperwork for the shipping containers moving into and out of the ports. Although called clerks, they are separate from the ILWU’s marine clerks who supervise the loading and unloading of cargo.

Fageaux said his members had the backing of the larger 15,000-member union, which he said has agreed to honor Local 63 picket lines.

A walkout could force retailers to scramble to other ports to obtain their goods.

Fageaux said several issues remained, including the union’s desire to have its own representatives on separate trusts for health benefits and employee pensions.

“We believe we have lost benefits before because we didn’t have a say in the selection of certain carriers and investments,” Fageaux said.

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ron.white@latimes.com


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