* Economic impact estimated at up to $1 billion a day
* Ports worry about losing business to competing harbors
* Nine container ships diverted since walkout began
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Dec 1 A strike by clerical workers
at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach idled most of
the busiest U.S. cargo shipping complex for a fifth day on
Saturday as container-laden vessels waited to be unloaded and
marathon contract talks stretched into the night.
Some 10,000 members of the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union Local 63 were refusing to cross picket lines of
some 500 striking clerical workers, effectively shutting down 10
of the two ports' combined 14 container terminals.
Four other container terminals have remained opened, along
with facilities for handling break-bulk cargo such as raw steel
and tanker traffic.
Still, the strike marks the largest disruption of cargo
traffic through the two Southern California facilities since a
10-day lockout at West Coast ports in 2002.
Estimates of the overall economic impact of the strike have
run as high as $1 billion a day, including lost wages of dock
workers, truckers and others idled by the walkout, and the value
of cargo rerouted by shippers.
Although the strike, which began on Tuesday, comes after the
busy pre-holiday shipping season, the diversion of at least nine
ships during the walkout has heightened growing concerns about
Southern California losing business to other ports.
"There's a lot of concerns here locally that this is exactly
the kind of thing that has the potential to drive business
away," said Richard McKenna, executive director of the
non-profit Maritime Exchange of Southern California, which
tracks shipping in the region.
The Port of Los Angeles, the nation's busiest container
harbor facility, and second-ranked Long Beach together handled
more than $400 billion in goods arriving or leaving the West
Coast by ship, L.A. port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.
In addition, the two ports directly or indirectly support
roughly 1.2 million Southern California jobs - workers involved
in moving freight to or from the shipping complex, experts say.
That does not count ancillary employment of people hired in
restaurants, retail or other businesses that provide various
services to those workers.
The clerks had been without a contract for more than two
years when labor talks with management broke off on Monday. The
chief stumbling block has been the future of union
representation for jobs that are lost through retirement.
MARATHON BARGAINING SESSION
Negotiations resumed Friday night and extended into the
early hours of Saturday morning.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table later
Saturday morning and "we're going to continue as long as it
takes," said John Fageaux, an ILWU Local 63 spokesman. "We'll go
late into the night, I'm sure, late into the morning."
Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Harbor Employers
Association of dock companies, said management was concerned
that a prolonged strike could undermine the ports' image for
reliability and thus encourage shippers to go elsewhere in an
increasingly competitive environment.
"So that's why the employers are looking to reach a
settlement in good order," he said.
ILWU leaders are demanding that jobs traditionally performed
by their members remain classified as union work and subject to
the union's contract terms, even after individuals holding those
jobs retire. They accuse the management of seeking to outsource
union clerical jobs to overseas workers paid far less in wages
The employers insist on reserving the right to fill only
those jobs that need to be filled, and they accuse the union of
seeking to featherbed work that is unnecessary, even after jobs
are lost through retirement.
At least nine container ships that were due at Los Angeles
or Long Beach since the walkout have taken their cargo to other
harbors in Northern California, Mexico or Panama, the Maritime
Five other container vessels were anchored just outside the
Los Angeles-area port complex on Saturday waiting for their
destination terminals to reopen, the exchange said.
The two ports together normally receive between six and
seven container ships a day, and there is reason to worry that
Southern California could ultimately lose some of that business,
The Panama Canal, for example, is being widened in a project
slated for completion in 2015, which would allow some larger
ships to avoid docking on the West Coast, he said.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric