Strike idles most of LA-Long Beach port complex

Most of Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex idled by clerical workers strike

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Cargo ships were stacking up Thursday in Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors as a strike shut down most of the terminals at the nation's busiest port complex.

About 70 clerical workers from the local chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were picketing seven of eight Los Angeles terminals and three of six Long Beach terminals, port officials said.

Dockworkers from the same union were refusing to cross the picket lines even though an arbitrator ruled the walkout invalid on Tuesday.

By Thursday morning, at least 18 ships docked and inside the adjacent harbors were not being serviced, port spokesmen said.

"Basically, we're not moving cargo in and out here," Los Angeles port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.

The clerical workers have been locked in a contract dispute with 14 shippers for 2½ years. Talks broke off Monday and the workers struck a single terminal but expanded the picket lines Wednesday afternoon.

No new contract talks were scheduled.

Combined, Los Angeles and Long Beach comprise the nation's busiest port complex, handling 40 percent of the nation's import trade.

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 shipped ashore.

However, there were concerns that a continuing 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.

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

The shippers, in turn, claim that 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.

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