Los Angeles port disrupted by seven-day strike

Shipping containers are seen as port operations are halted during a strike at the Port of Los Angeles Tuesday, 4 December 2012 Clerical workers at 10 of the dock's 14 terminals have gone on strike but dockworkers that refuse to cross picket line are having the most impact

A strike at the port of Los Angeles has entered a seventh day, disrupting the nation's busiest shipping complex.

Unionised clerical workers are fighting to keep current hiring practices.

About unionised 10,000 dockworkers have joined the clerical workers, refusing to cross picket lines to load and unload cargo.

The strike has brought to a standstill three-quarters of the estimated $1bn (£621m) a day in cargo that passes through the port.

As a result, the strike has also left thousands of truck drivers at a standstill and threatens to create shortages for wholesalers and retailers around the country if it continues.

'Corporate greed'

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says both sides have agreed to federal mediation, and the BBC's David Willis in Long Beach says the mediator from Washington DC is due to arrive by 20:00 PT (04:00 GMT).

A union official says the strike will continue in the meantime.

Analysis

The US' largest port complex stands virtually idle as goods sit in cargo ships waiting for unloading or are on the docks with nobody to process the paperwork. The men and women who normally perform such data entry tasks are on the picket line. Their jobs carry good pay and benefits but they believe the management is looking to outsource them.

A union spokesman told me more than 50 jobs had been outsourced from these ports in the last three years. He said the dispute was about more than the future of workers here, it was about the wider question of the economic transformation of America.

Management has denied outsourcing jobs and says it is simply seeking greater flexibility in recruiting staff in the future. If this issue cannot be swiftly resolved there are fears it could affect the supply of goods to shops, possibly raising prices in the run up to Christmas.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents about 800 clerks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Union spokesman Craig Merrilees says the mayor's efforts have helped bring both sides closer together, but there still is much work to do.

Both sides agree that salaries, holiday and pension benefits for current employees are not an issue in the negotiations. But the clerical workers have not had a contract since June 2010, the Los Angeles Times reports.

At question are proposed changes in hiring practices that port management representatives say would give shippers the ability to avoid hiring unneeded employees.

"Rather than having artificial staffing levels, we're saying give us the ability to make decisions based on need, and we think that's a reasonable request," management spokesman Steve Getzug said.

Unions counter that management wants to outsource jobs to places such as Taiwan and China, where shippers can pay lower wages for work that can be done by computer.

"It's important to us to keep those jobs here in the United States," Mr Merrilees said. "We're fighting against corporate greed."

On Tuesday, Mr Villaraigosa told reporters that the parties negotiated throughout the night.

"I'm hopeful that the mediator will be here today," he said. "We've got to get a deal and get a deal as soon as possible."

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