December 3, 2012 / 2:55 AM / 5 years ago

Union solidarity rubs up against slow economy in LA port strike

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Union solidarity can have different faces. On a rainy Sunday morning it’s the drawn and weary face of longshoreman Jack Bagliazo, caught between his nearly 40 years in the union and the steady work at the Port of Los Angeles he needs as Christmas approaches.

“I understand, and I’ll support their cause,” Bagliazo, 57, said between sips of beer at Godmother’s Saloon. The dimly lit bar with pool tables and nautical-themed decor in San Pedro, California, is two blocks from the port where a strike by clerks could soon enter its second week.

“I don’t think (either side) went about it the right way,” he added.

Bagliazo is a linesman and member of the 10,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Worker’s Union’s local 63, which said on November 29 that it would “stand in complete solidarity” and refuse to cross the much smaller clerk union’s picket line.

A slender man with rough hands and graying brown hair, Bagliazo is well acquainted with strikes and lockouts since he first took a job at the port in 1973, right after high school. Each strike, he says, gets harder to take, especially one that comes on the heels of an economic recession and just before the holiday season.

“It’s easy to just throw your hands up and say, ‘OK, we’re out of here,’” Bagliazo said. “There’s other ways they could have done this and settled this years ago.”

The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach remained largely shut down by labor disputes on Sunday, forcing tens of thousands of workers to stay home or join picket lines around the two busiest U.S. ports.

The clerks, who handle records, began their strike on November 27. Negotiations between the unions and employers continued into Sunday.


The labor conflict effectively shut down most of the operations at the ports, causing an estimated $1 billion per day in losses and turning them into ghost towns.

Roads that would typically be packed with big-rig trucks were wide open. The vast parking lots were empty. No workers milled through the labyrinths of stacked metal containers emblazoned with names like “China Shipping” and “Italia.”

Small groups of picketers quietly paced in front of the port’s gates beneath light rain.

Bagliazo and other longshoremen who declined to give their names expressed disappointment that their jobs were being affected by the smaller clerk’s union, whose 800 members work indoors.

But beyond the mere principle of solidarity between unions, the longshoremen said they were united by a fear that their jobs would be outsourced.

The clerical workers, who have been working without a contract for more than two years, say the strike boils down to what they say is a concerted effort by shipping companies to replace retiring workers lower-paid workers from elsewhere.

The employers - which include some of the largest U.S. shipping companies - say they reserve the right to decide which jobs to fill.

Longshoreman Ruben Munoz, 56, a crane operator, said he has heard about cranes that operate automatically, or by remote control. He said he feared his job could become obsolete or outsourced.

“With the new technology, there are going to be more people and less jobs,” Munoz said. “That’s a scary thought. We all have families to feed.”

Bagliazo said he barely graduated high school, and never considered himself bright. He’s made a good living as a longshoreman, he says, and it isn’t easy to get a job at the port anymore.

There’s a dearth of good jobs for physical laborers, as manufacturing jobs go overseas, he and others said.

“Not everybody is smart enough to go to college,” he said. “But when you outsource, send everything overseas, how do people survive?”

Edited by Ronald Grover and Eric Walsh

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