LOS ANGELES: Negotiators have reached an outline agreement to end a week-long strike crippling the US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle 40 percent of US maritime imports, mainly from Asia.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the deal late Tuesday after taking part in marathon negotiations the night before, and the union said it expects to ratify the deal and resume work on Wednesday.
The strike by clerical workers at the key US transport gateway, which constitutes the world’s seventh-biggest commercial harbor, has been costing billions of dollars to the local and wider US economy.
Union officials said late Tuesday they had succeeded in winning new protections to prevent jobs from being outsourced.
“This was a community effort that will benefit working families for many years to come,” said John Fageaux, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63-OCU.
Stephen Berry, chief negotiator for the Harbor Employers Association, said “tonight is the end of a very long journey.”
“Both sides had principles that are very important to them,” he said. “The employers have struggled since the global economic crisis in 2008. Cargo volumes have dropped and they’ve not returned to those levels.”
The strike by about 800 clerical staff from the ILWU began at a terminal in Los Angeles port last Tuesday but spread to six other terminals and Long Beach the next day.
About 10,000 ILWU members have honored the picket call, shutting down 10 of the 14 cargo container terminals at the complex.
The striking clerical workers said they had been without contracts since June 2010, and the two sides had argued over whether or not the employers could outsource the jobs of union workers who retired or left for other employment.
The strike raised concerns that closure of the ports could further hobble the already sluggish US economy and dent expected gains from the holiday season.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) noted that the recovery from a 10-day lockout of West Coast ports in 2002 took six months and cost the economy an estimated $1 billion a day.
More than 95 percent of cargo passing through Los Angeles is traded with Asia, mainly with China and Japan, according to its website, which put the value of 2011 cargo trade with China/Hong Kong at $136 billion.
The Long Beach port supports over 30,000 jobs locally, 316,000 jobs in southern California and 1.4 million jobs throughout the United States, according to its website.
The strike had forced container ships to divert to other ports in California, notably Oakland, up the coast near San Francisco, and Mexico.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that US President Barack Obama was concerned about the West Coast strike.
“We — and that includes the president — continue to monitor the situation in Los Angeles closely and urge the parties to continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible,” he said.
On Tuesday Villaraigosa said both sides had agreed to federal mediation, and that he had contacted Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen by phone.
It was not immediately clear what role if any the federal mediator had played in reaching Tuesday’s tentative agreement.