Unionized office and clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike early Thursday morning, just minutes after a labor pact expired with the group representing 14 shippers and terminal operators.
The walk-out began just after midnight, when negotiations stalled between the clerical unit of the International Longshore Warehouse Union and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association.
"We're very, very apart with respect to the items we still have on the table," said John Fageaux Jr., president of the ILWU Local 63 Office Clerical Unit.
"The mood out here is very optimistic and we're satisfied with the way it's going right now," Fageaux said. "We're willing to meet with the employers whenever they want because we want to get this thing done."
Dockworkers initially honored the clerical strike just after it went into effect, but were ordered back to work by 8:30 a.m., just after an arbitrator ruled that it was illegal, said Stephen Berry, lead negotiator for the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association.
"The arbitrator ruled that the clerical union engaged in bad faith bargaining last night and said that the picket line was invalid," Berry said. "I hope they'll come back to the table and talk."
Union officials contend that the employers want to outsource jobs to other regions and implement new technologies, which could lead to a significant loss in unionized jobs.
The union asked for a 21 percent wage increase during negotiations held Wednesday night at the Pacific Maritime Association office, Berry said.
The employers countered with a $1 pay hike during the life of the contract, along with a 10 percent increase to the employees' monthly pension benefits, along with an assurance for job protections, Berry said.
The clerical workers currently earn an average of $40 per hour, along with a health plan that includes free prescriptions and medical visit co-payments of $5 or less.
"Not all of their concerns are about job security," Berry said. "We need them to meet our concern based on business needs."
About 30 picketers were reported at the twin port complex as of 9:15 a.m., with port police officers monitoring the activity and assisting with traffic control around the terminals, said Rachel Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Port of Los Angeles.
"The port police force is concentrating on keeping the peace and allowing the picketers to have their First Amendment rights," Campbell said. "It's quiet and no problems are being reported."