ILWU Office Clerks And Employers Hope to Begin Contract Talks Early

In a bid to avoid the tumultuous and dragged out negotiations of 2010, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) office clerical workers in Los Angeles-Long Beach are expected to begin negotiations with employers in April – less than three months before the current contract expires. With shippers in no mood to tolerate another work stoppage and the West Coast ports still recouping from the diversion of cargo to the East Coast, both sides of the bargaining table agree that beginning talks early would be beneficial for negotiations.

The Office Clerical Unit (OCU) of ILWU Local 63 represents about 600 office workers who process shipping documents at 15 marine terminals and shipping lines in Los Angeles-Long Beach. Negotiators for the employers and the OCU must agree upon 15 separate contracts. In a public statement, attorney Stephen Berry, who represents the 15 marine terminals and shipping lines, stated that “employers are keenly aware of the diversion of cargo that took place to the East Coast, and the impact of the diversion on job opportunities at West Coast ports,” in reference to the crippling port congestion earlier this year during the ILWU dockworker negotiations. “We want early resolution of these 15 contracts. We don’t want prolonged bargaining.” After enduring months of West Coast port congestion and work slowdowns associated with the coastwide ILWU dockworker negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), shippers are keeping some of the cargo they diverted to East and Gulf Coast ports.

ILWU Local 63 OCU has its own contracts with some, but not all of the shipping lines and terminal operators in the largest U.S. port complex. Those contracts are not associated with the coastwide contract between the ILWU dockworkers and the PMA, and the employer association that Berry represents is not part of the PMA. However, the OCU is one of the most powerful unions in North America. It can shut down cargo handling at many of the terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach, which accounts for about 70 percent of the West Coast container volume, by erecting picket lines at the terminals, which are then honored by ILWU dockworkers who refuse to cross the picket lines in solidarity with their OCU brothers and sisters.

That is exactly what happened in the seemingly endless OCU negotiations that began in the spring of 2010. Employers and the OCU failed to reach a contract by the June 30, 2010, deadline, but the office workers remained on their jobs during on-again, off-again negotiations over the ensuing two years.  The OCU eventually put up pickets at two terminals in December 2011 and the ILWU dockworkers refused to cross the pickets. However, the local arbitrator at the time, David Miller, ruled that the OCU demonstrators did not constitute a bona fide picket line under the ILWU-PMA coastwide contract, and he ordered the dockworkers to return to their jobs. In response, the OCU appealed Miller’s December 2011 ruling to Coast Arbitrator Sam Kagel in San Francisco, and Kagel in April 2012 overruled Miller. Kagel determined that the ILWU pickets of the previous December were bona fide, and the dockworkers were free to honor the picket lines and could refuse to work. The OCU remained on their jobs, however, throughout much of 2012, but suddenly on Nov. 27, 2012, they erected pickets at 10 of the 13 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach. ILWU dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines, and during the following week much of the cargo-handling in Los Angeles-Long Beach was halted. After some back and forth and conversations with city officials including the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaragosa,  the OCU and the employers signed the tentative agreement and ratified it in February 2013