Port Clerks Get Early Start on Contract Negotiations

Import/Export

As of Thursday, November 5, 2015

It seems like only yesterday that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were clogged with container ships after contract negotiations with the workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union dragged on for nine months.

Many manufacturers and retailers lost millions of dollars when time-sensitive merchandise for the holiday season never made it on time to store shelves as port activity up and down the West Coast was affected.

Now the office clerks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are negotiating a new five-year contract to replace the current contract, which expires on June 30, 2016, with the Harbor Employers Association.

Starting eight months before the contract ends might be a good start, but the clerks’ last contract negotiations with shipping lines and terminal operators lasted for two years. The process is complicated because individual negotiations take place between 15 shipping lines and terminal operators at the two ports.

Nonetheless, major progress has been made since the bargaining started on Oct. 26, said John Fageaux, president of the Office Clerks Unit of ILWU Local 63.

Contract talks have already wrapped up with three of the 15 parties, Fageaux said. “So far, there has been mutual interest in getting the deal done to provide that security that everyone is looking for,” he said. “We were able to sit down and work out a deal that is fair for both sides.”

The new contracts’ terms will not be revealed until everyone in the 900-strong clerks’ union ratifies the contract. The office clerks handle much of the vital paperwork needed to process goods through the ports. The clerks handle bills of lading and documents to transfer cargo containers from the ships to railcars and trucks among other things.

When the clerks’ last drawn-out negotiations went beyond the contracts’ deadline, they continued to work but at one point staged a strike in 2012 marked by a picket line keeping other unionized workers out.

The clerks’ negotiations come on the heels of contract negotiations that concluded earlier this year with more than 20,000 longshore workers represented by the ILWU at 29 West Coast ports.

Those nine months of negotiations put a major kink in getting merchandise to the docks for the critical holiday season. Because cargo was taking so long to be unloaded at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach—due to work slowdowns and chassis shortages—cargo-container ships were stacked up beyond the ports’ breakwater waiting for empty berths.

In February, a new five-year contract was agreed upon and ratified in May, clearing the way for port activity to return to normal.