Union anticipates strike as contract expires

SAN PEDRO, Calif. At union headquarters in Long Beach, clerical workers gathered Wednesday night to discuss the possibility of a strike.

"We're very disappointed," said John Fageaux, president of Local 63 of the Office Clerical Unit of the International Longshore Warehouse Union. "We were really hoping to sit down with them and close the gap."

He said negotiations with the shipping companies that work out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have broken down.

"We offered to meet at a hotel in Long Beach and to my knowledge they have not agreed to that," Fageaux said.

Stephen Berry represents the 14 shipping companies trying to negotiate a new contract.

"We've offered to meet at the government services mediation office, they refused to meet there, so I'm not quite sure what's going on," Berry said.

Berry said the union is being unrealistic in its demands, especially considering the economic downturn.

"These are the highest paid clerical workers in America" Berry said. "Their wage and benefit package is about $175,000 a year. They have paid time off of about 23 holidays a year."

But the union said the shipping companies are trying to outsource clerical jobs to third parties outside of California. They said outsourcing threatens the job security of their 900 members.

"We have always acknowledged we have very good jobs," Fageaux said. "We have great benefits. We're proud of that. This isn't even an issue of money. We haven't given them a wage proposal because that's not an important issue for us right now."

The current contract expires at midnight Wednesday.

Union leadership will be meeting into the early hours to decide what they will do if they do decide to strike tomorrow. The strike will be honored by the other unions at the ports.

The move comes after weeks of stalled negotiations.

A walkout would disrupt operations at the nation's largest port complex and could cause a domino effect with the other unions, and it would also impact revenue for Los Angeles and Long Beach.

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