UPDATE 1-Cargo ships stack up as L.A. port strike in 7th day

Steve Gorman
Reuters Middle East

* Negotiations resume after marathon weekend talks

* Economic impact estimated at $1 billion a day

* Retailers diverting goods to other ports

LOS ANGELES, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Freighters with no place to

unload cargo lined up at anchorages off Los Angeles and Long

Beach for a seventh day on Monday as shippers and striking

clerks resumed talks to end a labor dispute that has idled most

of America's biggest container port complex.

With mounting economic losses estimated at several billion

dollars, the strike marks the largest cargo traffic disruption

at the twin Southern California harbor facilities since a 10-day

lockout of longshoremen at several West Coast ports in 2002.

Unlike the labor clash a decade ago, which took place in the

fall, the latest dispute is unfolding after the busy pre-holiday

shipping season, limiting the scope of its ripple effect.

Major U.S. retailers, including Target and Home

Depot, said they have so far been largely unaffected by

the strike because the bulk of their Christmastime inventory has

already made it to store shelves.

But the National Retail Federation has asked President

Barack Obama to intervene, warning that a prolonged strike could

have a "devastating impact on the U.S. economy."

The brunt of the latest dispute at the ports of Los Angeles

and Long Beach, which together account for nearly 40 percent of

all U.S. cargo container imports, has been borne mostly by dock

workers and truckers in the region.

Terminal operators also worry about lost business as some

cargo is diverted to competing ports.

Striking port clerks remained at loggerheads on Monday with

shippers and terminal owners over the future of union

representation for clerical jobs after employees retire. The

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 has so far

resisted calls for outside mediation.

The 800-member clerical workers unit of the ILWU local

walked off the job on Tuesday, with some 10,000 longshoremen and

other union members refusing to cross picket lines, forcing a

shutdown at 10 of the twin ports' 14 container terminals.


Four other container terminals remained open, along with

facilities for handling shipments of automobiles, liquid fuels

and break-bulk cargo such as raw steel.

The overall economic impact of the strike has been estimated

to run at more than $1 billion a day - including lost wages of

dock workers, truckers and others idled by the walkout and the

value of cargo rerouted by shippers.

The strike has prompted at least 11 freighters to change

course and take their cargo to ports in Northern California,

Mexico and Panama, according to the non-profit Maritime Exchange

of Southern California, which tracks shipping in the region.

Another 11 ships were waiting at anchorages outside the Los

Angeles-Long Beach complex, unable to discharge their cargo,

said Dick McKenna, executive director of the Maritime Exchange.

"Shippers are a conservative bunch. If there is no

reliability at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, they'll

go someplace else," said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the

Harbor Employers Association, representing shippers and terminal

operators in the labor talks.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a letter to

negotiators for both sides on Monday urging them to bring in a

mediator to help resolve the dispute and to stay at the

bargaining table around the clock until an agreement is reached.

The Harbor Trucking Association, representing 8,000 truck

drivers, called on Monday for the Federal Maritime Commission to

bring greater pressure to bear for a settlement.

Marathon negotiations over the weekend, capped by another

exchange of proposals, failed to produce a breakthrough.

John Fageaux, head of the ILWU Local's clerical workers

union, criticized management's negotiators for calling a break

in the talks on Saturday night, saying, "We were prepared to

bargain all night."

Getzug, of the employers association, said they were "trying

to move this thing along as quickly as possible," and that the

companies would welcome a mediator.

ILWU leaders are demanding that jobs traditionally performed

by their members remain classified as union work and subject to

the union's contract terms, even after employees holding them

retire. The employers insist on reserving the right to fill only

those jobs that need to be filled.


The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together handled

more than $400 billion in goods arriving or leaving the West

Coast by ship last year.

The two ports directly or indirectly support roughly 1.2

million Southern California jobs - workers involved in moving

freight to or from the shipping complex, experts say.

A number of retailers told Reuters their holiday-season

merchandise was already in the supply chain and that they were

using other ports around the country as needed to divert

incoming shipments.

Companies such as Lowe's and clothing retailer

Aeropostale said they have yet to feel a pinch from the

strike, though they were prepared to make adjustments as needed.

"We're asking ourselves why the striking union waited this

long to act, when it would have had more leverage with a big

threat to the holiday season," Caris & Co analyst Dorothy Lakner

said in a research note.

Shippers agreed that it was mostly a wait-and-see game for

now, though the season was in their favor.

The "peak transportation season for Christmas holiday has

almost been over and it is weak season for container shipment

now," Zhang Shouguo, chairman of the China Shipowners

Association, told Reuters.

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