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December 5, 2012 3:48 pm
Shipping lines and terminal operators look set to face months of disrupted supply chains across the US, despite the resolution late on Tuesday night of a strike that had halted work in most of the US’s busiest container port complex.
Representatives of striking clerical workers at the twin California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reached an agreement with the Harbor Employers Association guaranteeing their work would not be “outsourced” to other places, including Texas and Taiwan. The HEA had always insisted it never had any intention of outsourcing the jobs concerned.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s office and clerical unit had been working without a contract since the previous one expired two and a half years ago. Neither side gave details on the new contract’s terms after the agreement, except the guarantee against outsourcing.
The dispute had nearly shut down container handling at the port, which handles 40 per cent of the US’s containerised imports, after ILWU longshoremen refused to cross clerical workers’ picket lines at the 10 terminals where they were striking. Only four relatively small terminals kept working.
Shipping lines diverted ships as far away as Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico in an effort to escape the disruption. About 20 ships are sitting at anchor off the ports waiting to load and unload. Other vessels were slowed down during their journey across the Pacific and will arrive in the next few days.
Lines, terminal operators and customers said before the eight-day strike ended that, after a lockout of ILWU members all along the US west coast in 2002, it had taken six months to restore inventories to normal levels and supply chains to smooth functioning. Recovery from the clerical workers’ eight-day strike is expected to take nearly as long.
“It could take several months for supply chains to become fully normalised,” said Neil Davidson, ports analyst for Drewry Shipping Consultants in London.
Robert McEllrath, the ILWU’s international president, called the outcome a “victory”, saying the support of union’s 10,000 members around the ports had secured it.
The HEA thanked elected and community representatives who had helped to secure the agreement. Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles’ mayor, had stepped in to try to negotiate a compromise, while the US federal government appointed a mediator between the two sides.
“The harbor employers look forward to resuming operations to help the ports grow and maintain their vital role in the economic welfare of the community, region, and nation,” the HEA said.
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