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Union Holds U.S. Ports Hostage

Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 (ILWU) agreed to a labor contract with port operators associated with the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association.

The deal, announced Tuesday, ends an eight-day strike that began when the port’s clerical workers walked off the job after complaining that they had been working for the last two years without a contract. The strike idled 10,000 dockworkers, effectively shut down 10 port terminals and halted trade into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between labor and management that will bring to an end the eight-day strike that has cost our local economy billions of dollars,” L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement.

Mayor Villaraigosa’s concerns about the strike are well-founded, considering the effects of a port shutdown would  be felt beyond Southern California. According to Colliers International, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest ports in the United States and North America, both equipped to accommodate a combined 14 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo per year and make up around 40 percent of all U.S. container imports. According to Fox News, the shutdown of the two ports has kept $760 million of goods per day from being unloaded. Bloomberg reported the strike's economic cost totaled $1 billion per day.

The potential negative impact on the  economy spurred the National Retail Federation to urge President Obama to intervene in the labor dispute. Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, said the president would monitor the situation closely. Federal mediators were called in to defuse the situation but ultimately admitted they themselves had little to do with the final outcome.

The contract ensures layoff protection for current port employees and modest pay raises.

The labor negotiations between the ILWU and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association involved issues such as a guarantee of 40 hours a week of pay and an increase in pension benefits. The big issue concerning the clerical workers for the LA/Long Beach ports has been job security. After working without a labor contract for two years, clerical workers and other port workers are worried employers will outsource jobs out of California or the country.

According to Fox News, the average base pay for clerks working for the LA/Long Beach Ports is $87,000 a year, which rises to $165,000 after pension and other benefits are added.

"We know we're blessed," said striker Trinnie Thompson to Fox News. "We're very thankful for our jobs. We just want to keep them."

During the port shutdown, many ships carrying cargo were diverted elsewhere, most notably to Ensenada, Mexico. The Mexican port city is looking to “win more business from shippers inconvenienced by the second major work dispute at the L.A. and Long Beach ports in a decade,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

How ironic that, in attempting to ensure that their jobs remain in the United States, the union almost guaranteed their relocation to Mexico.