Port Strike Hits 7th Day

A tug boat turns a cargo ship. | Photo: madlyinlovewithlife/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A strike that has hobbled operations at the nation's biggest port complex entered its seventh day today amid calls on President Barack Obama to intervene to protect the U.S. economy.

More contacts were reported Sunday between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on one side and shipping lines and terminal operators on the other, but no breakthroughs were announced.

The strike was launched Tuesday by the 800-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit, which had been working without a contract since June 30, 2010. With some 10,000 ILWU members honoring the strikers' picket lines, the action has shut down 10 of the 14 cargo container terminals at the complex.

"A prolonged strike at the nation's largest ports would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy," according to a letter from National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay to Obama dated Nov. 29. "We call upon you to use all means necessary to get the two sides back to the negotiating table."

The NRF, which describes itself as the world's largest retail trade association, said a 10-day lockout at West coast ports in 2002 led to significant supply chain disruptions, which took six months to remedy and cost the economy an estimated $1 billion a day.

"An extended strike" at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach "this time could have a greater impact considering the fragile state of the U.S. economy," the letter stated. "The two sides must remain at the negotiating table until a deal is reached."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over the weekend also called for round-the-clock bargaining -- through a mediator -- to end the strike.

In spite of talks between the two adversaries, there have been periods without hard negotiations, according to the mayor.

"This cannot continue," Villaraigosa said in a message to John Fageaux Jr., president of the union's clerical unit, and Stephen L. Berry, chief negotiator for the employers group, complaining that the strike is "costing our local economy billions of dollars. The cost is too great to continue down this failed path."

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