Los Angeles port strike triggers fears, lobbying by US businesses

Tim Reid and Steve Gorman
Reuters Middle East

* Port strike at Los Angeles and Long Beach enters sixth day

* Industry groups fear prolonged dispute could spread to

east coast

* Lobbyists pressure White House, lawmakers to intervene

Dec 2 (Reuters) - A national coalition of U.S. business

groups is urging an end to a strike at the twin California ports

of Los Angeles and Long Beach amid fears that a prolonged

stand-off will cost the American economy many billions of

dollars, and could even spread to the east coast.

Trade groups led by the National Retail Federation have sent

letters to U.S. President Barack Obama and leading members of

Congress asking them to intervene and help end the strike at

America's two busiest container harbor facilities. Those

industry groups say the strike, which entered its sixth day on

Sunday, is already costing $1 billion a day.

The labor dispute has been triggered by 500 clerical workers

at the ports, members of the relatively small Office of Clerical

Union Workers. Their industrial action and clout has been

significantly strengthened because some 10,000 members of the

International Longshore and Warehouse Union have supported them,

refusing to cross the clerical workers' picket lines.

Their action has effectively shut down 10 of the two ports'

combined 14 container terminals. Four other container terminals

have remained opened, along with facilities for handling

break-bulk cargo such as raw steel and tanker traffic.

Industry groups say they have fresh memories of a 10-day

lockout at West Coast ports in 2002. They estimate that dispute

cost the U.S. economy $1 billion a day and that it took six

months before the supply chains fully recovered.

Groups are also warily monitoring an ongoing labor dispute

between the International Longshoremen's Association and the

U.S. Maritime Alliance which could affect ports from Maine to


The employment contract between the two groups expired at

the end of September without a new agreement. The contract was

temporarily extended for 90 days, until the end of this year. A

federal mediator has stepped in to oversee negotiations to try

an avert a strike that would hit at least 14 ports along the

East and Gulf coasts.

"Our members are very nervous and very upset about the

impact of the (Los Angeles) strike on their businesses," said

Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy

at the National Retail Federation.

"We have had a lot of feedback. They have very fresh

memories of what happened in 2002 and what is happening on the

east coast."

Gold said his organization has been working with groups

including the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the

Retail Industry Leaders Industry Association and the Harbor

Truckers Association to pressure lawmakers in Washington to end

the stand-off.

The NRF sent a letter to Obama last week asking him to

intervene. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, California's two

Democratic senators, have also urged both sides to resolve the


Negotiations ran late into Saturday and continued Sunday.

The clerks had been without a contract for more than two years

when labor talks with management broke off on Monday. The chief

stumbling block has been the future of union representation for

jobs that are lost through retirement.

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 individuals holding those

jobs retire. They accuse the management of seeking to outsource

union clerical jobs to overseas workers paid far less in wages

and benefits.

The Port of Los Angeles, the nation's busiest container

harbor facility, and second-ranked Long Beach together handled

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

Coast by ship, L.A. port spokesman Philip Sanfield said.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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