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S. Calif. ports, area businesses await ILWU strike decision

S. Calif. ports, area businesses await ILWU strike decision

Following mixed media reports, it became clear Wednesday that talks between the union representing maritime office workers in Southern California and area terminal and shipping firms have broken down.

   Officials representing the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit and the 14 area firms declared an impasse Wednesday following best-and-final offers presented in the talks on Monday.

   Despite Wednesday morning reports that talks were set to resume following even earlier mutual declarations of an impasse, the talks did not materialize.

   Both sides in the month-old talks are reportedly considering their options. Union officials said early Wednesday that it would be meeting with its members to determine how to implement a strike. Picket lines by the 930-member OCU threaten to shut down the neighboring ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, together the busiest container port complex in the Western Hemisphere. The larger ILWU dockworker locals have said they would honor any picket lines put up at the ports' terminals by the office unit members.

   'We gave our last, best and final (offer) to the employers,' said John Fageaux, president of the OCU Local 63. He told local radio station KNX Wednesday morning that the employers followed up the union offer with a counterproposal which was promptly rejected by the union.

   'The next step is ' we are going to determine when and where the picket signs are going to go up,' Fageaux said.

   Stephan Berry, the lead negotiator for the 14 shipping carriers and terminal operator employers, confirmed that an impasse had been reached during an early Wednesday interview with the station.

   'Each side feels it has moved as far as they feel they can at this point and they can go no further,' Berry told the radio station. He added that a strike, with all of its impacts, would be disappointing with what he described as a 14 percent wage increase for the workers on the table. This offer would bring the office workers' salary, according to Berry, up to $80,000 per year with an additional $40,000 in benefits. The employers contend that the OCU members are some of the highest paid office workers in the nation, and in addition to their pay receive a pension, health care benefits free of premiums, and 20 paid holidays a year.

   Officials from neither side have spoken with the media since early Wednesday.

   The OCU union local, an entity unique to Southern California, is part of the area's larger ILWU dockworker union. However, the union directly negotiates its contract with 14 Los Angeles and Long Beach-area maritime firms and not with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the interest of West Coast maritime firms in negotiations with the parent ILWU union. The OCU represents mainly 'white collar' office and clerical workers in the 'off-port' offices of maritime firms. Local 63 represents more than 900 workers for 17 shipping companies and terminal operators at the ports. The current contract talks, however, only covers members at the 14 area firms.