Strike at Los Angeles ports starts to back up commerce

Members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit walk a picket line near APM Terminals, halting cargo at the busiest seaport complex in the nation on Nov. 29, 2012 in Long Beach, Calif.

Today is Day 4 of the strike at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union say their jobs are being outsourced. The cargo companies on the other side of the bargaining table say they haven't outsourced anything. Meanwhile, all those shipping containers aren't moving and the ports are losing about a billion dollars a day.

Vinny Wilkes is not one of the workers on strike. He loads and unloads trucks with goods from container ships. But when he showed up at his job today, they told him there wasn't any work.

"I'm very worried. I have three children that may not have a Christmas behind what they are doing here," Wilkes said.

The boxes Wilkes would have loaded aren't here because 10,000 workers went on strike in solidarity with 600 clerks who work for the shipping lines and cargo terminals.

Craig Merrilles is a spokesperson for the union. He says the problem is not about wages. The clerks are well-paid. Longshore unions are one of the few in the country that still have a strong presence in the workplace. Those unions have successfully fought for high wages and benefits for clerical workers.

But Merrilees says,"dozens of clerical jobs have been outsourced overseas and to non union workers." The cargo companies say they haven't moved any jobs.

Four days in, shipping lines will have to make difficult decisions about rerouting their container ships to ports in Mexico or further up the West Coast.

Brooks Bentz is a partner in a supply chain management company. He says the stoppage at the ports is just the beginning. "The difficulty is in not understanding the magnitude of the disruption."

Chris Lytle, executive director of the port of Long Beach says the effects of the strike are already being seen outside the borders of the port. "Trains are starring to stack up. You have thousands of truck drivers now that aren't working that would normally work the port."

That means those trucks and trains aren't carrying goods to thousands of businesses.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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