The curious case of a port walkout*

portstrike.jpgThis one is a puzzler: A union representing clerks at the nation's largest shipping hub decides to picket in front of several terminals, thus impacting overall operations. But the job action comes after the holiday rush when container traffic has slowed to a relative trickle. If you wanted to cause a stir, why not stage your walkout in August or September, when a port slowdown would have far greater consequences? Then again, you have to wonder why this small subset of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been squabbling with the shipping companies since the summer of 2010 over a new contract. Actually, clerks have been under fire at the ports for years because much of their work can be handled by computers (as is already done in ports around the world). The latest skirmish has the union claiming that clerical work is being moved to workers in lower-paid locations, while the shipping companies claim the union has engaged in "featherbedding," which is when employees are hired even when there is no work to do. Clerks no doubt have some leverage because of of their affiliation with the full ILWU - and the potential impact of a full-scale walkout would be serious to the local economy (a 10-day lockout in 2002 resulted in billions of dollars of losses). But at this point it just doesn't seem that things will reach that far.

*Update: From NBC4:

At least 18 ships docked inside the two neighboring harbors -- which together handle 40 percent of U.S. import trade -- were not being serviced. "Basically, we're not moving cargo in and out here," said Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Port of LA Executive Director Geraldine Knatz urged the two sides to return to negotiations. "We are starting to see ships divert to other ports, including to Mexico," Knatz said. "In today's shipping environment, we can't afford to lose cargo or our competitive advantage."

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent Unions stories:
If you thought the L.A. port strike was serious...
Port workers return after tentative settlement
Break in the port talks?*
Still no apparent break in port strike
The curious case of a port walkout*

New at LA Observed
On the Media Page
Go to Media

On the Politics Page
Go to Politics
Arts and culture

Sign up for daily email from LA Observed

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
LA Observed on Twitter and Facebook