- Terelle Jerricks
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
With negotiations going nowhere after working without a contract since June 30, 2010, the Office Clerical Unit of ILWU Local 63 went out on strike Nov. 27, idling most of the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex. Eight days later, December 5, the strike was over, terminals were bustling, and the workers and the union seemingly couldn’t be happier with the outcome–an outcome that still needs to be formally adopted by the membership.
“This was a community effort that will benefit working families for many years to come,” said OCU President John Fageaux.
“This victory was accomplished because of support from the entire ILWU family of 10,000 members in the harbor community,” added ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.
The key issue was the outsourcing of jobs, in violation of one of the core principles of the Modernization and Mechanization agreements reached in the 1960s. The agreement established the basic foundation for labor peace on the waterfront in the technological era, which was ushered in by the advent of containerization.
Employers were “freed of restrictions on the introduction of labor-saving devices,” while workers were promised that the new jobs created by using any such devices would remain in their communities, subject to ILWU jurisdiction.
However, the most recent updating of this basic agreement, following the momentous 2002 contract fight, left some potential loopholes that would have to be addressed in arbitration, ILWU officials told Random Lengths at the time.That left the door open for the outsourcing practices that were at the heart of this latest negotiation and strike, which ended “by winning new protections that will help prevent jobs from being outsourced to Texas, Taiwan and beyond,” according to an ILWU press statement announcing the end of the strike.
Fifty-one jobs have been outsourced within the past five years, according to the union—a huge figure, given that the OCU only represents 450 workers. The employers did not dispute that 51 jobs are gone, but they push the dubious claim that the jobs were not outsourced because no one was fired. These employers have stated that the workers had quit, died or retired. With the jobs already outsourced, the employers then turn around and accuse the union of wanting contracts that permit “featherbedding,” the practice of hiring more workers than are needed to perform a given job.
“The real problem has been an effort to deny their longstanding outsourcing schemes that have sent dozens of good-paying jobs to other locations from Texas to Taiwan,” ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees responded, when questioned by Random Lengths as the strike headed into the weekend.
“They’d like everyone to believe that there’s been a ‘natural’ decline in the number of jobs, but the fact is they’ve outsourced significant amounts of work. That means there are fewer jobs in the Harbor Area communities that our families need.”
This was not the first strike called in these negotiations, Merrilees explained.
“There was a strike about a year ago,” he said. “Early on two of the employers reached terms with the union and settled their contract. The remaining twelve, including ones engaged in the outsourcing schemes, have been refusing to reach terms.”
Subsequently, ILWU International President Bob McEllrath weighed in as well.
“Dozens of good jobs – ILWU union jobs – are being destroyed by companies at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” said McEllrath, in an official union statement. “They’re outsourcing family-wage jobs to Texas, Taiwan and beyond. If companies can destroy good ILWU jobs here, nobody on the West Coast will be safe – and communities in the Harbor Area will suffer.”
As reported to its members on the Local 63 website, “The ILWU Longshore Division respected and refused to cross the first picket line placed at APM Pier 400 pending processing by the grievance machinery.
“On November 27, Area Arbitrator Miller ruled that the OCU picket line at APM Pier 400 was not Bona Fide. Meanwhile, the OCU picket lines expanded to various other terminals where the OCU is engaged in contract bargaining. On November 28, the Coast Labor Relations Committee (CLRC) met to discuss Area Arbitrator Miller’s rulings on this issue. The Union moved to vacate the awards. After discussion, under the facts and circumstances of the case, the Coast parties agreed that the OCU picket lines are indeed Bona Fide.”
Negotiations resumed on Nov. 29, but broke down again during the weekend.
“At a certain point people get fed up when the big companies appear so intransigent and disrespectful of the concerns that workers and community members are raising about the need to keep good jobs here,” Merrilees said, by way of explaining why the strike was necessary, while it was still ongoing.
“When you’re dealing with big powerful corporations, they rarely pay attention to workers and community concerns, unless you get their attention, and that usually requires something drastic, such as a strike, to force them to face reality and issues that otherwise they are used to ignoring.”
“Standing together and supporting this strike is the only way to protect everyone’s job,” McEllrath concluded. “Our support has already forced the companies to resume negotiations. We can win this fight – if we stay strong and united.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Both parties had agreed to federal mediation after a marathon bargaining session at Banning’s Landing involving Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But mediation proved unnecessary, as the agreement was announced a few hours later.