updated 7/16/2007 7:33:37 PM ET 2007-07-16T23:33:37

A union representing clerks at the nation’s largest port complex submitted a revised contract to employers Monday that one labor official hoped would avert a possible shutdown of the docks.

The proposal came after both sides in the labor dispute agreed to continue negotiating past a 12:01 a.m. Monday strike deadline set by the union.

“We anticipate an agreement,” said John Fageaux Jr., president of the office clerical unit of Local 63, a division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “We’ve done just about all we can do to get an agreement reached.”

The 15,000-member ILWU has indicated that longshoremen would honor picket lines if the 750 clerks strike.

That would effectively shut down loading and unloading operations at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Fageaux declined to provide specifics of the union’s latest proposal, which he has called its “last, best and final offer.”

However, he said wages were not a key issue. Instead, the main sticking points have been job security and a package proposed by employers that would limit health plan choices for new hires and temporary employees, he said.

It could take hours for the employers to review the offer and craft a response.

Steve Berry, lead negotiator for the 14 marine terminal operators and other firms that employ the office clerks, wouldn’t predict a timetable.

“We’re working hard. We just keep going,” he said.

The port complex accounts for 40 percent of all the cargo container traffic coming into the United States.

A work stoppage could create ripple effects throughout many industries that depend on timely movement of cargo. It also would come as the ports enter their busy pre-holiday season, when shippers depend on the facilities to handle imports.

The clerks work at marine terminals and handle bookings for the export of cargo and other transport documents.

Under their most recent contract, full-time, port clerical workers earned about $37.50 an hour, or $78,000 a year. They also receive a pension, health care benefits free of premiums, and 20 paid holidays a year.

Berry said the employers’ latest offer included raises that over the life of a three-year contract would bump the employees’ hourly pay to $39.50; the union is seeking increases that would equal $53 per hour by the last year of the contract.

In 2002, longshore workers across the West Coast were locked out for 10 days over a contract dispute. The shutdown cost the nation’s economy an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a day.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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