LOS ANGELES — Work resumed Wednesday at the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors after settlement of a strike that crippled the nation's busiest container port complex for more than a week.
Gates at 10 closed terminals reopened, and dockworkers were ready to resume loading and unloading at least 13 cargo ships that were stuck for days at docks or in the harbors, Los Angeles port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.
“We expect to start seeing some significant movement today,” he said.
Television reports showed huge cargo vessels moving into port, and a line of trucks waiting to enter a terminal.
Clerical workers who said that shippers were offshoring their jobs struck on Nov. 27 and thousands of dockworkers in the same union refused to cross picket lines, paralyzing much of the ports complex that handles 44 percent of all containerized cargo that arrives by sea nationwide, such as cars from Japan and computers from China.
Negotiators reached a tentative agreement to end the strike late Tuesday, less than two hours after federal mediators arrived from Washington, D.C. No details about the terms of the deal had been released by early Wednesday, though a statement from the workers’ union said it had won new protections preventing jobs from being outsourced.
Port officials estimated that roughly $760 million worth of cargo a day was failing to move through the ports during the walkout. Some 20 ships diverted to other ports in California and Mexico while others scheduled to reach Southern California simply didn't sail.
It wasn't immediately clear specifically what goods were impacted; holiday items had arrived weeks ago.
Days of negotiations that included all-night bargaining sessions suddenly went from a stalemate to big leaps of progress by Tuesday. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the sides were already prepared to take a vote when the mediators arrived.
“I'm really pleased to tell all of you that my 10,000 longshore workers in the ports of LA and Long Beach are going to start moving cargo on these ships,” said Ray Familathe, vice president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “We're going to get cargo moved throughout the supply chain and the country and get everybody those that they're looking for in those stores.”
At issue during the lengthy negotiations was the union's contention that terminal operators wanted to outsource future clerical jobs out of state and overseas — an allegation the shippers denied.
Shippers said they wanted the flexibility not to fill jobs that were no longer needed as clerks quit or retired. They said they promised the current clerks lifetime employment.
The strike began when 450 members of the ILWU's local clerical workers unit walked off their jobs. The clerks had been working without a contract for more than two years.
The walkout quickly closed 10 of the ports’ 14 terminals when some 10,000 dockworkers, members of different unit of the same union, refused to cross picket lines.
Even though the deal was reached soon after their arrival, the federal mediators said they had little to do with the solution.
“In the final analysis, it worked. The parties reached their own agreement,” said George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. “There is no question in my mind that collective bargaining is the best example of industrial democracy in action.”
During the strike, both sides said salaries, vacation, pensions and other benefits were not a major issue.
The clerks, who make an average base salary of $87,000 a year, have some of the best-paying blue-collar jobs in the nation. When vacation, pension and other benefits are factored in, the employers said, their annual compensation package reached $165,000 a year.
“We know we're blessed,” one of the strikers, Trinnie Thompson, said during the walkout. “We're very thankful for our jobs. We just want to keep them.”
Union leaders said if future jobs were not kept at the ports, the result would be another section of the U.S. economy taking a serious economic hit so that huge corporations could increase their profit margins by exploiting people in other states and countries who would be forced to work for less.
After the deal was reached, the ports’ management said they were “delighted that the terminals will be operating again, that the cargo will be flowing.”
The clerks handle such tasks as filing invoices and billing notices, arranging dock visits by customs inspectors, and ensuring that cargo moves off the dock quickly and gets where it's supposed to go.
Villaraigosa, who had been calling for the two sides to reach a deal for days, said he was pleased by the resolution.
“I think it's appropriate to say ‘mission accomplished,’” he said.