* Labor dispute idled largest U.S. cargo shipping complex
for 8 days
* Work stoppage cost Southern California an estimated $8
* Union officials hail terms reached on outsourcing of jobs
LOS ANGELES, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The United States' largest
cargo shipping complex was set to resume full operations on
Wednesday after harbor clerks and management settled an
eight-day strike that left the ports of Los Angeles and Long
Beach mostly idle, sapping the region's economy of an estimated
The striking clerks reached a tentative contract deal with a
group of shippers and terminal operators late Tuesday, with
prodding from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a onetime
Officials for the International Longshore and Warehouse
Workers Local 63 said the hundreds of clerical employees who
walked off the job Nov. 26, and the thousands of longshoremen
who had refused to cross their picket lines, would return to
work first thing Wednesday morning.
Federal mediators called upon to join negotiations at the
mayor's behest showed up at the waterfront community center
where talks were being held shortly before the mayor announced
"Today, the ILWU voted to approve the contract,"
Villaraigosa said, standing with smiling members of both
Union officials said they expected the rank and file, who
have been without a contract for more than two years, to ratify
the new agreement.
Details of the pact were not immediately made public. But
the mayor and ILWU representatives said the two sides had come
to terms on the union's chief concern - control over
outsourcing, or the transfer of jobs to workers elsewhere for
What direct role, if any, the mediators played in clinching
the deal was unclear. But Villaraigosa said a key breakthrough
came when the union, which had resisted outside intervention,
joined management on Tuesday morning in consenting to mediation
as a way of spurring the stalled talks.
At that point, Villaraigosa told Reuters, "The employers
said, 'Why don't we just do this today,'" which led to the final
round of negotiations and a deal.
The union earlier credited the mayor with helping the
parties narrow their differences during a marathon bargaining
session the night before.
The strike cost Southern California, a region still
struggling to recover from a prolonged economic slump, an
estimated $1 billion a day, including lost wages and the value
of cargo rerouted to other ports, the mayor said.
It marked the worst cargo traffic disruption at Los Angeles
and Long Beach - which together account for nearly 40 percent of
all U.S. container imports - since a 10-day lockout of
longshoremen at several West Coast ports in 2002.
The latest dispute forced a shutdown at 10 of the twin
ports' 14 container terminals, as some 10,000 longshoremen and
other union workers honored the picket lines of the 800-member
ILWU clerical workers unit.
Four other container terminals remained open, along with
facilities for handling shipments of automobiles, liquid fuels
and break-bulk cargo such as raw steel.
Still, at least 18 freighters bound for Los Angles and Long
Beach during the strike changed course to take their cargo to
ports in Northern California, Mexico and Panama, according to
the non-profit Maritime Exchange of Southern California. T h e
diverted cargo heightened concerns about the region losing
business to competing ports.
Many other cargo-laden vessels were forced to line up for
days at offshore anchorages, waiting to unload their containers.
The chief stumbling block throughout contract negotiations
was disagreement over future staffing levels and continued union
classification of jobs lost to retirement or other attrition.
Under the agreement, Villaraigosa told Reuters: "The
employers are not going to outsource."
Union spokesman Craig Merrilees said: "Really, it was
getting control on the outsourcing ... ensuring that the jobs
are here today, tomorrow and for the future."
Stephen Berry, chief negotiator for the Harbor Employers
Association, representing shippers and terminal operators at the
talks, hailed the settlement as "the end of a very long journey.
We're delighted with the terms. We'll be operating again and the
cargo will be flowing."
During the dispute, the employers had accused union
negotiators of seeking to "featherbed" the ranks of clerical
workers with more jobs than were necessary.
Unlike the labor clash at West Coast ports a decade ago,
which took place in the fall, the latest dispute unfolded after
the busy pre-holiday shipping season, limiting the scope of its
Many major U.S. retailers said they were largely spared any
pain from the labor clash b ecause most of their Christmas
inventory had already made it to store shelves.
But the National Retail Federation asked President Barack
Obama last week to intervene, warning a prolonged strike could
have a "devastating impact on the U.S. economy."
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together handled
more than $400 billion in goods arriving or leaving the West
Coast by ship last year. Experts say the ports directly or
indirectly support 1.2 million Southern California jobs -
workers involved in moving freight to or from the shipping