Strike slows activity at busy Calif. port complex

Dockworkers refused to cross clerical workers' picket lines in the fourth day of the strike.

LOS ANGELES — Contract talks between striking clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and shippers have adjourned for the night.

The walkout has dramatically slowed activity at the nation's busiest cargo complex for the fifth day Saturday as dockworkers refuse to cross picket lines set up by union clerical workers.

A spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said talks ran until 9:15 p.m. and were scheduled to resume Sunday morning.

The walkout involves clerical workers from a chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, who typically make more than $160,000 a year. Dockworkers are a separate unit of the same union.

The clerical workers' contracts with 14 terminal operators expired 2½ years ago.

The chief negotiator for the shippers remained hopeful about a resolution, saying the talks have been professional and courteous.

"There's a mutual commitment to go forward," said Stephen Berry of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association. "The employers remain hopeful that there will be a quick resolution and we can get the cargo flowing again."

There were a handful of picketers at each terminal on Friday, said Phillip Sanfield, Los Angeles port spokesman.

Combined, Los Angeles and Long Beach handle 40 percent of the nation's import trade.

At least 18 cargo ships have been unable to load or unload since workers began the strike on Tuesday. A handful of vessels that were anchored offshore apparently left for other ports, Sanfield said.

There was no immediate word on how much the strike is costing the ports. November generally is a slower time for the ports because most holiday goods already have been handled.

However, there were concerns that a continued widespread strike could prompt retaliation from terminal operators. A bitter 10-day lockout at a number of West Coast ports in 2002 caused an estimated $15 billion in losses.

"Both sides in this dispute understand the critical importance of keeping cargo moving through the San Pedro Bay complex," said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz. "Time is of the essence and we urge a mutually agreeable resolution as soon as possible so that we can return to full operations."

At issue is the union's contention that terminal operators have outsourced local clerical jobs out of state and overseas — an allegation the shippers deny.

Shippers deny outsourcing and have offered lifelong job security to the 600 or so full-time clerical workers, Berry said.

They also have offered to boost average annual pay from $165,000 to $195,000 and grant 11 weeks of paid vacation, he said.

The shippers claim the union wants contract language to permit "featherbedding" — the practice of requiring employers to call in temporary employees and hire new permanent employees even when there is no work to perform