What had been deemed a strike in Southern California by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — but was undertaken by people who were not employed — does appear to have disrupted some port operations in the Los Angeles/Long Beach port area Wednesday, albeit briefly.
Just how much of a disruption is a point of some contention. What is clear is that a protest by workers fired from divisions of Universal Logistics (NASDAQ: ULH) late last year, soon after some of them had voted to unionize, did get support in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles from other workers.
In its statement, the Teamsters said its members and Local 63 of the International Longshoremen’s Union “effectively shut down one of the seven major terminals at the Port of Los Angeles, stopping any incoming or outgoing traffic.”
The quote was attributed to Ron Herrera, the Teamsters’ Port Division Director and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President, as well as Eric Tate, the port’s Port Division Deputy Director. They described it as a “worker solidarity action” in support of the workers manning the picket lines at Universal Intermodal Services and Southern Counties Express in nearby Compton.
The statement by Herrera and Tate continued to refer to the workers as on strike, though they are no longer employed by Universal. Those workers had been employed at Compton by Universal Intermodal and Roadrunner Intermodal, which had recently been acquired by ULH. At the time of the dismissals, workers at Universal Intermodal had recently voted to affiliate with the Teamsters.
The Compton facility continues to be operated by ULH and its Southern Counties Express division.
A report by Los Angeles television station Fox11, in turn quoting City News Service, said that one of the port’s seven terminals had “minimal to moderate traffic disruption.” The City News report was quoting Phillip Sanfield of the Port of Los Angeles.
Disruption came from the refusal of members of the ILWU to service trucks at a port terminal operated by Southern Counties, the ULH subsidiary. Sources put the duration at about an hour.
According to multiple sources, the terminal brought the work action by the ILWU to rapid arbitration at the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers at the port. While some sources report that the ILWU went back to work because of a decision by the arbitrator, others say the ILWU returned to work on an agreement with the PMA and that the question before the arbitrator — whether the ILWU can refuse to service Southern Counties trucks because of its dispute with the Teamsters, in essence, respecting the Teamsters’ picket line — remains to be decided.
“We showed today that there is power in our union and in our solidarity as working people,” the Teamsters said in its statement. It thanked supporters in the ILWU as well as the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Mobile Workers Alliance and the Service Employees International Union.
During the disruption, the port of Long Beach released a statement from deputy executive director Dr. Noel Hacegaba, and added a statement on Thursday that differed little from the Wednesday press release.
”All container terminals remain fully open and operating, and cargo continues to flow through the Port of Long Beach,” Hacegaba said. “We are aware of the picketing and will continue to monitor the situation to ensure everyone’s safety, and to keep all roads accessible to industry partners who want to do business at the Port. Our representatives will also work with participants to ensure they can exercise their First Amendment rights while we maintain normal port operations.”
Even if Wednesday’s disruption lasted just an hour, it means that a localized dispute at subsidiaries of Universal Logistics expanded, at least for a day, to a separate unrelated union. That comes after the issue of Universal Logistics’ action has become the subject of a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board.
It suggests that the Teamsters may see what happened at ULH in Compton — approval of union representation, followed by the dismissal of those and other workers — as having legs and could be an asset in the Teamsters’ never-ending battle for growth, one that has taken several hits in the past few months.
A request for comment to ULH remained unanswered by publication time.