Tuesday, February 12, 2013

LA/LB Union Membership Rejects Labor Pact

The possibility of dockworkers resuming a strike that ended in December became more real last week as rank and file members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 rejected a contract agreement negotiated between the union and an employers association.

The pact was voted down by all 16 bargaining units of Local 63, an office clerical unit, during a membership ratification vote Wednesday, February 6. The agreement had been reached between union leadership and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association in response to an eight-day strike at the LA/Long Beach port complex last year.

The crippling strike, which began at noon on November 27, was launched after more than two years of negotiations. The clerical staffers had been working without a contract since their previous three-year pact with management expired June 30, 2010.

At the time of the agreement’s announcement, it was lauded by both sides. ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe, who helped coordinate the strike and assist the local in negotiations, said it would help prevent job outsourcing to other states and countries.

Neither the union nor employers association has been willing to go on the record regarding the labor negotiations, specific details of the agreement or the rank and file’s rejection of the deal. Both sides acknowledge however, that the main sticking point had been the outsourcing issue. The union has contended that management wants to implement new technology that would lead to fewer flesh and blood workers being necessary.

Although the employers’ group has maintained that implementation of new technology is needed to improve efficiency, the ILWU has specifically opposed technology that would allow customers to directly access booking information, saying it could lead to the outsourcing of jobs.

The union had also sought to have language included in the contract specifying that workers would not be laid off.

If the current impasse drags on, it could lead to a reopening of last year’s strike. Although Local 63 only represents about 800 dockworkers at the port complex, its November-December strike was highly effective because it was honored by its much larger sister, Local 13, which has about 7,000 registered members and represents almost 20,000 part- and full-time longshore workers who discharge cargo at the adjoining ports.

During the strike, about 20 ships were rerouted to other West Coast ports, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, while another 13 vessels were idle in and around the port complex’s waters.