For the second time in three months, the union at the center of an eight-day port strike has filed federal charges against a major port terminal operator, accusing it of spying on employees.
According to the charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in downtown Los Angeles, APM Terminals Pacific, Ltd., the largest terminal operator in Los Angeles, may have used its internal telephone system to snoop on workers.
"(The employer has) unilaterally activated an `Observe' feature of its in-house telephone system, `Symposium,' whereby it could secretly electronically eavesdrop on confidential telephone conversations of bargaining unit employees discussing ... ongoing negotiations and bargaining strategy," wrote Ralph M. Phillips, an attorney for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Local 63 Office Clerical Unit.
The charge, filed in late January, came just before clerical workers at APM Terminals soundly rejected the terms of a tentative agreement reached Dec. 4 by union and management negotiators. Those agreements ended an eight-day strike that shut down 10 of 14 terminal operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
According to a tally of election results emailed to union members and obtained by the Los Angeles News Group, 37 workers at APM opposed the agreement, while 16 employees supported it. In all, none of the 16 bargaining units of the Office Clerical Unit ratified their contracts during the Feb. 6 meeting, a spokesman for the Harbor Area employer organization said last week.
Both sides have returned to negotiations and have agreed to limit public comments during the talks, sources said. Neither ILWU nor employer representatives returned calls seeking comment.
While it is possible the Office Clerical Unit could go on strike again, that scenario is considered unlikely. Instead, workers are expected to continue to work under the terms of their expired contracts while the sides work out differences.
Operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were normal Monday, officials said.
Meanwhile, the labor board will begin its investigation into allegations of surveillance, spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said. A similar charge, filed by the union in November, has been dropped due to a lack of evidence, Cleeland said.
According to the new charge, the "observe" function on the telephone was not disabled for more than two weeks after employees complained about it.
If government lawyers find merit to the charge, they will bring a case before an administrative law judge. The judge will then determine whether APM violated federal labor law.