A strike by clerical workers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has already diverted several container ships to other ports, and the National Retail Federation has asked President Obama to take action.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit has established pickets outside terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
It started when about 70 clerical workers walked off their jobs late Tuesday, saying the terminals management was trying to outsource jobs overseas. Members of the OCU have been working without a contract for 30 months.

Late Tuesday night, a labor arbitrator ruled the strike was not bonafide and directed the ILWU members back to work, but instead the strike has spread. Longshoremen have refused to cross the anti-outsourcing picket lines.

APM Terminals said in a statement posted on its website yesterday that Pier 400 remains shut-down due to the OCU pickets. "The ILWU refused to honor the Arbitrators ruling instructing them to return to work. We continue to address this issue through the PMA/ILWU grievance process."

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that several container ships have been diverted to other ports, such as Oakland and Mexico, because of the strike, which is affecting 10 of the 14 cargo terminals at the nation's busiest port complex.

The National Retail Federation yesterday urged President Obama to immediately engage in the stalled contract negotiations between management and striking union workers.

A prolonged strike at the nations largest ports would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy, read a letter from NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay to Obama. We call upon you to use all means necessary to get the two sides back to the negotiating table.

In its appeal to the president that the Administration directly engage in the ongoing labor dispute, NRF noted the outcome of the 2002 West Coast ports lockout. The 10-day lockout led to significant supply chain disruptions, which took six months to remedy, and cost the economy an estimated $1 billion a day.

An extended strike [in Los Angeles and Long Beach] this time could have a greater impact considering the fragile state of the U.S. economy, the letter stated. The two sides must remain at the negotiating table until a deal is reached.

David Ross, a transportation analyst for investment firm Stifel Nicolaus, noted, "We find it somewhat interesting that union workers are protesting a contract offer that contains job guarantees, an average pay of nearly $90K (for pushing paper), while they only work on average 8 1/2 months per year and get paid for 12 months.

"Ports should be moving to paperless operations anyway with all the electronic filings now done with customs and other import/export documentation, and we believe any further strikes may accelerate that move."