By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Freighters with no place to unload their cargo lined up at anchorages off Los Angeles and Long Beach for a seventh day on Monday as shippers and striking clerks resumed talks to end a labor dispute that has idled most of America's biggest container port complex.
The two sides remained at loggerheads over the future of union representation for clerical jobs after individuals retire from those jobs, but 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 last 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.
Four other container terminals remained open, along with facilities for handling shipments of automobiles, liquid fuels and break-bulk cargo such as raw steel.
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.
The strike has prompted at least 11 freighters to take their cargo to other ports in northern California, Mexico and Panama, according to the nonprofit Maritime Exchange of Southern California, which tracks shipping traffic in the region.
Another 11 ships were waiting at anchorages outside the Los Angeles - Long Beach complex, unable to discharge their cargo, said Dick McKenna, executive director of the Maritime Exchange.
Although the strike began after the busy pre-holiday shipping season, the diversion of freight originally bound for Los Angeles and Long Beach has heightened growing concerns about southern California losing business to other ports.
"Shippers are a conservative bunch. If there is no reliability at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, they'll go someplace else," said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Harbor Employers Association, representing shippers and terminal operators in the labor talks.
UNION RESISTING CALLS FOR MEDIATION
Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa sent a letter to negotiators for both sides on Monday urging them to bring in a mediator to help resolve the dispute and to stay at the bargaining table around the clock until an agreement is reached.
The Harbor Trucking Association, representing 8,000 truck drivers, called on Monday for the Federal Maritime Commission to bring greater pressure to bear for a settlement.
The National Retail Federation and other U.S. business groups sent separate letters to President Barack Obama and leading members of Congress asking them to intervene, warning that a prolonged strike "would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy."
Marathon negotiations over the weekend, capped by another exchange of proposals, failed to produce a breakthrough.
John Fageaux, head of the ILWU Local's clerical workers union, criticized management's negotiators for calling a break in the talks Saturday night, saying, "We were prepared to bargain all night." Continued...