* Labor dispute idled largest U.S. cargo shipping complex
for 8 days
* Work stoppage cost Southern California an estimated $8
* Union officials hail terms reached on outsourcing of jobs
By Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Dec 5 The largest U.S. cargo
shipping complex resumed full operations on Wednesday after
harbor clerks and management settled an eight-day strike that
left two Southern California ports mostly idle, sapping the
region's economy of an estimated $8 billion.
The strike at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long
Beach ended when clerks in the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union Local 63 reached a tentative contract deal with
a group of shippers and terminal operators late Tuesday. Los
Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a onetime labor activist,
had joined in to prod the two sides into an agreement.
"Everyone is back to work and it's business as usual," said
John Fageaux, a spokesman for the ILWU.
Terminals gates opened at 7 a.m. local time (1500 GMT) and
cranes began unloading cargo crates from ships an hour later,
said Philip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 workers are expected to clock in on
Wednesday at the port complex, he added. At one point, 13 ships
were anchored offshore because of the shutdown.
About 800 clerical employees walked off the job Nov. 26 over
a dispute with management about the outsourcing of jobs. About
10,000 longshoremen refused to cross their picket lines,
according to Fageaux.
The settlement was reached not long after federal mediators,
called upon to join negotiations at the mayor's behest, showed
up on Tuesday at the waterfront community center where talks
were being held. Villaraigosa announced the agreement.
"Today, the ILWU voted to approve the contract,"
Villaraigosa said, standing with smiling members of both
Union officials said they expected members, who have been
without a contract for more than two years, to ratify the new
Details of the pact were not immediately made public. But
the mayor and ILWU representatives said the two sides had come
to terms on the union's chief concern - control over
outsourcing, or the transfer of jobs to workers elsewhere for
What direct role, if any, the mediators played in clinching
the deal was unclear. But Villaraigosa said a key breakthrough
came when the union, which had resisted outside intervention,
joined management on Tuesday morning in consenting to mediation
as a way of spurring the stalled talks.
The union credited the mayor with helping the parties narrow
their differences during a marathon bargaining session.
"I am pleased with it," said Fageaux, "We didn't get
everything that we wanted and neither did the employer. It's
fair and it's a contract we can both be happy with."
$1 BILLION A DAY
The strike cost Southern California, a region still
struggling to recover from a prolonged economic slump, an
estimated $1 billion a day, including lost wages and the value
of cargo rerouted to other ports, the mayor said.
The National Retail Federation, which had warned that a
prolonged strike could have a "devastating impact on the U.S.
economy," welcomed the settlement.
"Retailers have cargo that has been stuck at the port that
has to get out for last minute holiday merchandise," said
Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customers
policy for the NRF. "This is much bigger than just hitting
retailers. It impacts manufacturers, farmers and others involved
in the logistics industry."
The shutdown marked the worst cargo traffic disruption at
Los Angeles and Long Beach - which together account for nearly
40 percent of all U.S. container imports - since a 10-day
lockout of longshoremen at several West Coast ports in 2002.
The latest dispute forced 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.
Still, at least 18 freighters bound for Los Angles and Long
Beach during the strike changed course to take their cargo to
ports in Northern California, Mexico and Panama, according to
the non-profit Maritime Exchange of Southern California. The
diverted cargo heightened concerns about the region losing
business to competing ports.
Many other cargo-laden vessels were forced to line up for
days at offshore anchorages, waiting to unload their containers.
The chief stumbling block throughout contract negotiations
was disagreement over future staffing levels and continued union
classification of jobs lost to retirement or attrition.
Under the agreement, Villaraigosa told Reuters: "The
employers are not going to outsource."
Union spokesman Craig Merrilees said: "Really, it was
getting control on the outsourcing ... ensuring that the jobs
are here today, tomorrow and for the future."
During the dispute, the employers had accused union
negotiators of seeking to "featherbed" the ranks of clerical
workers with more jobs than were necessary.
Unlike the labor clash at West Coast ports a decade ago,
which took place in the fall, the latest dispute unfolded after
the height of the busy pre-holiday shipping season, limiting the
scope of its ripple effect.
Many major U.S. retailers said they were largely spared any
pain from the labor clash because most of their Christmas
inventory had already made it to store shelves.
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. Experts say the ports directly or
indirectly support 1.2 million Southern California jobs -
workers involved in moving freight to or from the shipping