Calif. Strike Raises Job Security, Other Issues
LOS ANGELES - For the most part, the work of the people who file the invoices for the TV sets that arrive from China and the cars that come from Japan goes all but unnoticed as those products and countless others make their way across the United States.
Not this week, however, after about 400 of the 600 unionized shipping clerks who toil at the giant Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach walked off their jobs and quickly paralyzed the nation’s busiest shipping complex.
As the strike entered its eighth day Tuesday, the key sticking point in negotiations, according to both sides, are differences over the filling of both temporary and permanent jobs in the future.
Union leaders maintain that management wants to save money by outsourcing workers’ jobs to places like China and Taiwan, where it can pay workers half the money to do the same work by computer. The result, they say, would be one more American sector taking an economic hit just to boost a giant company’s profit margins.
"It’s important to us to keep those jobs here in the United States," said union spokesman Craig Merrilees. "We’re fighting against corporate greed."
Management maintains it won’t outsource any jobs but it wants more flexibility for hiring future employees so that it doesn’t have to pay people to fill slots that aren’t needed.
"Rather than having artificial staffing levels, we’re saying, give us the ability to make decisions based on need, and we think that’s a reasonable request," said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Harbor Employers Association.
He added that management has promised to guarantee current workers’ their jobs until they retire or leave the ports for other jobs.
Although the strikers, who are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, are few in number, their action received a big boost last week when 10,000 members of their sister union, which represents dockworkers, refused to cross their picket lines.
That quickly shut down 10 of the ports’ 14 terminals.
As the strike moved into its second week, labor experts estimated it was costing the U.S. economy tens of millions of dollars a day, idling thousands of truckers who can’t pick up cargo, disrupting rail traffic and, if it continues, will begin emptying warehouses across the nation.
"We estimate that the two ports handle about a billion dollars’ worth of cargo a day," said Art Wong, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. "Three-quarters of the port complex is shut down, meaning $760 billion a day worth of goods are just idled."
Those goods, he said, are either sitting on the docks or offshore in huge cargo ships waiting to be unloaded at a port complex that handles about 40 percent of the cargo coming into the United States.