Los Angeles Ports Turn Into "Ghost Towns" After Labor Dispute

Category: US Economy / Dec 04, 2012 11:37AM EDT
Freighters with no place to unload cargo lined up at anchorages off Los Angeles and Long Beach for a seventh day on Monday (December 03)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. Still, Chris Lytle, Executive Director at the Port of Long Beach, warned that a prolonged strike could have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. "All cargo coming into the port is stopped, not only on the land side but on the port side. We start to have ships at anchor," said Lytle. "All of the directly impacted workers are not working, but then the other ancillary business, the trucking, the warehouses, the logistics. All of those workers aren't working. That ripples out to every place that we touch." Major U.S. retailers, including Target and Home Depot, say they have so far been largely unaffected by the strike because the bulk of their Christmastime inventory has already made it to store shelves. 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. The workers picketing at various port entrances on Monday, said they're fighting to keep jobs here in California. "They are not really dealing in good faith," said Sal Chavez, a longtime worker at the dock. "We have been two-and-a-half years without a contract. The jobs are going left and right out of the country and nobody is doing anything about it. Somebody has to step forward and say, 'We need to keep these jobs in America.' That's why theses jobs are here, they belong to the terminal, they belong here." 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. 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.