The Herald Bulletin

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December 6, 2012

LA ports reopen after crippling eight-day strike ends



"These are fairly complicated jobs, you can't just hire anybody to do them, but nevertheless they can be done from other places," said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said Wednesday.

Moving such jobs overseas or to states that pay less, and where unionization is not as strong, is something that has been a trend in the United States for decades, he said, giving as an example large company customer call centers that have been relocated to India.

"What's remarkable about this is that the union struck, they shut down the ports and they won," he said, adding it showed what the strong labor movement that still exists in the shipping industry is capable of accomplishing.

The clerks make average salaries of $41 an hour, or about $87,000 a year. They also receive pensions and several weeks of vacation a year. Their health insurance is fully paid and includes zero doctor co-pays, giving them among the best salary and benefits packages of any blue-collar workers.

The deal, reached late Tuesday night, must still be ratified by union membership, but both sides expect that to happen in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, gates reopened at the ports and thousands of workers got busy unloading everything from cars to clothing, and television sets to computers from ships that had been idling in the ocean. Goods were placed on trains and trucks, to be delivered across the country.

"It's going to take a few days, maybe a week or two to get back to normal," said Long Beach port spokesman Art Wong.

During negotiations, shippers fought vigorously against the job guarantees, maintaining that would force them to keep people on the payroll that weren't needed.

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