Negotiations between employers and a longshore local which represents hundreds of clerical workers for terminals and shipping companies in Southern California and has been working without a contract for nearly two years have broken off again.
Stephen Berry, an attorney for the Harbor Employers Association that represents 14 employers, said talks broke off on Thursday after a day and a half when the Office Clerical Union (OCU) Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) rejected the latest contract offer he offered.
Since the negotiations began in 2010, the OCU has struck selected employers three times - once for nine days and twice for one day - and most recently in November 2011. An area arbitrator said at that time OCU workers could strike, but other ILWU members could not honor those picket lines without violating their own contract and had to work.
However, that ruling was appealed and this April an arbitrator held that other ILWU workers could honor the picket line.
This has raised alarm among some shippers who are concerned about the possibility of a West Coast longshore strike during the same year that employers and a different union, the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) that represents longshoremen on the East and Gulf Coasts, are seeking to negotiate a new contract for one that expires Sept. 30. On Thursday, a statement from the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX), the employer group trying to reach agreement with the ILA, said the union was not bargaining in good faith.
The presidents of both the ILA and ILWU have made effusive expressions of solidarity in the past year, and the breakdown in OCU talks comes on the eve of the ILWU's convention in San Diego this weekend.
OCU members have been working without a contract since June 30, 2010.
Berry said the companies he represents employ about 580 workers on a daily basis, but that the OCU local claims membership upwards of 800 including those in its hiring hall seeking work on any day.
While in the past Berry had bargained for all the companies as a group, in the most recent talks the union had insisted that it negotiate with only one company at a time. Berry said employers have been reluctant to do that, feeling the union would use talks with individual companies as a "whipsaw" in negotiations. But to get the process restarted, he agreed to negotiate on behalf California United Terminals, an affiliate of Hyundai Merchant Marine, but added he has extended the same offer on behalf of all the employers to the union.
The Harbor Employers Association said employers have given the union two options for a contract, both of which it says are improvements over its proposal last November. In addition, with the approval of the Pacific Maritime Association, the employer also offered to move its OCU employees into a supplement agreement under the Marine Clerks master agreement. It has posted a summary
of the employer's proposal containing the three options.
"The OCU rejected each of the offered options, made no meaningful counter-proposal, and announced that the parties were at impasse. In fact, the OCU's response effectively moved backwards, insisting on even more rigid restraints on the implementation and use of technology than the OCU had asked for in prior proposals," the Harbor Employers Association said.
The employer group said its proposals "include offers for absolute job security, guaranteed protection against layoffs, a substantial wage increase, guaranteed pay whether or not there is work to do, a 20 percent pension increase over the term of the contract, and maintenance of all benefits (in and out of network) under the OCU's 'Cadillac' health care plan at no cost to the OCU (although the cost of premiums paid by the employer for family coverage under the plan is $41,000 per year). The proposals also maintain all of the OCU's other very generous employment benefits (e.g., an average of 12 weeks of paid time off every year; meal and transportation allowances; early retirement with full benefits; education reimbursement; etc.)."
OCU President John Fageaux was not immediately available for comment.
Employers say "the OCU continues to insist that employers hire new clerical workers where there is no business need to do so, asking employers to match or exceed 2007 staffing levels, despite drastic drops in cargo volumes since that time. It continues to demand that the employers place unacceptable limitations on the use of technology that has made the LA/Long Beach ports more efficient and competitive in recent years."
For example, it says the union is "insisting that vendors call, fax, or mail an OCU worker, rather than use the employer's Website to access basic information; or that OCU workers manually enter data into computer systems even where automated data transfers are available and could provide customers and vendors with up-to-date cargo information." - Chris Dupin