Port clerks and their employers at the nation’s largest port complex tentatively agreed on a new contract Thursday, preventing a strike that could have crippled shipping and cost billions of dollars, a negotiator said.
“The employers are pleased that the union recognized the substantial investment that (employers) have made and agreed to their last wage proposal,” said Steve Berry, a negotiator for the shippers.
John Fageaux Jr., president of the union local, said he was satisfied with the tentative agreement.
At a news conference where workers clapped and cheered, Fageaux described days of virtually nonstop negotiations that nearly dead-ended without a deal. The clerks union previously threatened to go on strike if no deal was reached by July 16, but talks continued after the deadline.
“We were prepared to walk,” Fageaux said.
The 15,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union had indicated that longshoremen would honor picket lines if the 750 clerical workers went on strike. Such a move would have effectively stopped the loading and unloading of cargo at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, a complex that accounts for more than 40 percent of all the cargo container traffic coming into the United States.
“We think it’s in everyone’s interest — the consumers, the city — that we don’t have a work stoppage,” Berry said.
The Office Clerical Unit, Local 63, of the ILWU represents workers for 17 shipping companies and other cargo firms at the twin ports. Its clerks work at marine terminals and handle bookings for the export of cargo and other transport documents.
The tentative agreement, however, only applies to contracts for between 600 and 850 full- and part-time workers at 14 companies.
Their last contract, which expired June 30, gave full-time clerical workers about $37.50 an hour, or $78,000 a year, plus a pension, health care benefits free of premiums, and 20 paid holidays a year.
Under the tentative deal reached Thursday, the workers will receive a wage increase of 7 percent over the three-year contract. That includes a 50-cents-per-hour increase in the first year and $1-per-hour increase in each subsequent year. The employers also agreed to pay $3.4 million to establish a trust fund to manage employees’ health and welfare and pensions plans.
Along with a raise, the port clerks gained an agreement that will allow monitoring of whether any of their job duties are being outsourced.
Fageaux said he expects the union membership to vote on the tentative deal some time next week.
“Both sides negotiated hard for their positions, and both sides recognized what the other side needed,” he said.