* Negotiations resume after marathon weekend talks
* Economic impact estimated at $1 billion a day
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Dec 3 Freighters with no place to
unload their cargo lined up at anchorages off Los Angeles and
Long Beach for a seventh day on Monday as shippers and striking
clerks resumed talks to end a labor dispute that has idled most
of America's biggest container port complex.
The two sides remained at loggerheads over the future of
union representation for clerical jobs after individuals retire
from those jobs, but the International Longshore and Warehouse
Union Local 63 has so far resisted calls for outside mediation.
The 800-member clerical workers unit of the ILWU local
walked off the job last Tuesday, with some 10,000 longshoremen
and other union members refusing to cross picket lines, forcing
a shutdown at 10 of the twin ports' 14 container terminals.
Four other container terminals remained open, along with
facilities for handling shipments of automobiles, liquid fuels
and break-bulk cargo such as raw steel.
The overall economic impact of the strike has been estimated
to run at more than $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.
The strike has prompted at least 11 freighters to take their
cargo to other ports in northern California, Mexico and Panama,
according to the nonprofit Maritime Exchange of Southern
California, which tracks shipping traffic in the region.
Another 11 ships were waiting at anchorages outside the Los
Angeles - Long Beach complex, unable to discharge their cargo,
said Dick McKenna, executive director of the Maritime Exchange.
Although the strike began after the busy pre-holiday
shipping season, the diversion of freight originally bound for
Los Angeles and Long Beach has heightened growing concerns about
southern California losing business to other ports.
"Shippers are a conservative bunch. If there is no
reliability at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, they'll
go someplace else," said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the
Harbor Employers Association, representing shippers and terminal
operators in the labor talks.
UNION RESISTING CALLS FOR MEDIATION
Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa sent a letter to
negotiators for both sides on Monday urging them to bring in a
mediator to help resolve the dispute and to stay at the
bargaining table around the clock until an agreement is reached.
The Harbor Trucking Association, representing 8,000 truck
drivers, called on Monday for the Federal Maritime Commission to
bring greater pressure to bear for a settlement.
The National Retail Federation and other U.S. business
groups sent separate letters to President Barack Obama and
leading members of Congress asking them to intervene, warning
that a prolonged strike "would have a devastating impact on the
Marathon negotiations over the weekend, capped by another
exchange of proposals, failed to produce a breakthrough.
John Fageaux, head of the ILWU Local's clerical workers
union, criticized management's negotiators for calling a break
in the talks Saturday night, saying, "We were prepared to
bargain all night."
"I'm really disappointed," he told Reuters. "I don't feel
there's any urgency on the part of the employers to get this
deal done." The striking clerks have been without a contract for
more than two years.
Asked about suggestions for mediation, Fageaux said, "We
haven't ruled that out, (but) I don't think at this point a
mediator can really help."
Getzug, of the employers association, said they were "trying
to move this thing along as quickly as possible," and said the
companies would welcome a mediator.
"We've offered, as late as yesterday, generous wage and
benefits packages and absolute job guarantees, and in exchange,
we're making what we believe is a reasonable request to have
flexibility in hiring new or temporary workers when there's no
work for them to do."
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 them
retire. They accuse the management of seeking to outsource union
clerical jobs to overseas workers paid far less.
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.
The strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the
two busiest container ports in the nation, mark the largest
disruption of cargo traffic through the two southern California
facilities since a 10-day lockout at West Coast ports in 2002.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together handled
more than $400 billion in goods arriving or leaving the West
Coast by ship last year.
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