Talks between the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, a group representing 14 steamship lines and terminals, and clerical workers represented by the International Longshore Workers Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit (OCU) have broken down.
The harbor employers said in a statement Tuesday that "after weeks of negotiations during which the harbor employers believed that progress had been made towards new collective bargaining agreements with the OCU, the OCU has reversed course and once again called an end to negotiations in a move signaling that further OCU-initiated disruption in the L.A./Long Beach ports is likely."
John Fageaux, president of the local, could not be reached for comment.
The OCU workers perform clerical work inside the offices of terminals and liner carriers, and are not involved directly in loading or unloading ships.
While the OCU workers have been working without a contract since June 2010, anxiety about the talks has intensified this year. That's largely due to a decision by an area arbitrator, who said that while OCU workers could strike, other ILWU members who work at marine terminals on the West Coast could not honor those picket lines without violating their own contract. However, that ruling was appealed, and this April an arbitrator held that other ILWU workers could honor the picket line, raising the possibility of terminals being idled if the OCU workers decide to strike.
The employer group said the OCU "broke off negotiations after backing out of an agreement that provided a framework for resolving the parties’ dispute over staffing issues, presenting a series of regressive demands that only served to widen the gap between the parties, and rejecting the harbor employers’ latest—and most generous—proposals to date."
The harbor employers said their latest proposals include:
•Absolute job security—a guarantee against layoffs.
•Guaranteed pay of 40 hours a week (37.5 hours for six of the employers) for 52 weeks a year, whether there is work to do or not.
•Hourly wage increases of $1 each year for the next two years, plus a promise to match hourly increases provided under the ILWU Longshore Locals’ master contract for the following two years—providing average annual wages up to approximately $90,000.
•An additional one-time special payment of $3,000 to each permanent employee to cover missed wage increases in 2010 and 2011.
•Pension increases each year for the next two years and maintenance of pension benefits for the following two years—providing pensions of up to $75,000 per year or more.
•Maintenance of all in-network benefits in the clerical workers’ health care plan—for which they pay nothing—although the cost of premiums paid by the employer for family coverage under the plan is $41,000 per year (benefits include, e.g., $0 co-pay for generic drugs; $0 for x-rays, diagnostics, and lab tests; $5 office visit co-pays; 90 percent coverage for infertility; and more).
•Maintenance of all other employment benefits (an average of 12 weeks of paid time off every year; meal and transportation allowances; early retirement with full benefits; education reimbursement; etc.).
The harbor employers association said "in addition, the employers offered significant compromises on their key issues of staffing and technology. The employers agreed to relinquish their request for full control over whether and when temporary employees are called in to work, a position they had sought to maintain since the beginning of negotiations in April 2010, offering the OCU three different options for a compromise on the issue of filling temporary vacancies. The employers also agreed to make a number of changes to the technology implementation framework that addressed OCU concerns.
"The OCU rejected these proposals and presented counter-proposals containing some of the most egregious demands the union has made since these negotiations began two and one-half years ago."
According to the harbor employers, the OCU’s latest demands include:
•An unlawful demand that employers convert some managers to union-represented clerks as a reward for giving the OCU misleading and/or false information that the OCU sought to use against the employers during contract negotiations.
•A demand that employers hire additional employees they do not need to replace employees who have retired over the last three years.
•Numerous new “side letters”—offered for the first time after 31 months of bargaining—seeking to expand union jurisdiction in ways that conflict with or go beyond the language of the parties’ main contract.
"These demands represent a complete reversal from an agreement the OCU officers made in August to relinquish their prior demand that employers hire additional, unnecessary employees," the harbor employers said.
The employers also said the OCU has insisted on new, more rigid restraints on the implementation and use of technology, when it had agreed in August to drop similar demands. It said the union is insisting that vendors call, fax, or mail an OCU worker, rather than use Websites and other similar technologies to provide the same information they have always provided. They also demanded that OCU workers manually enter data into computer systems even where automated data transfers are available to provide customers and vendors with accurate and up-to-date cargo information more rapidly.
The harbor employers said the union's demands "are difficult to grasp in the midst of a struggling economy that continues to have a severe impact on the container shipping industry and Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor community, where unemployment in Los Angeles County totaled 10.5 percent in October 2012. The OCU's actions reinforce perceptions held by shippers, retailers and other trade partners across the globe that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are being held hostage by union self-interest—in this case, the interests of 600 office clerks." - Chris Dupin