According to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, a West Coast consortium of marine terminal operators, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach generate more than $10billion in state and local tax revenues annually.
The strike is attracting the attention of politicians. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, issued a joint statement urging both sides to come together to resolve the dispute. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wrote a letter to both sides asking them to settle quickly, while Los Angeles-area Democratic Reps. Janice Hahn and Judy Chu issued statements in support of the strikers.
One of the smallest bargaining units at the docks is causing the disruption. The roughly 800-member Office Clerical Unit, whose members handle billing, record tracking and some customer interactions, have been working to secure new contracts at both ports.
Stephen Berry, a negotiator for the employers, said under the old contracts, workers earn either $40 or $41 per hour, receive a full pension after as little as 10 years of work, and receive 11 weeks of paid time off annually.
Berry said the employers have offered slight raises. But both sides agree the dispute is not about money.
Union officials say the companies have been quietly moving some jobs to Taipei, Taiwan; Costa Rica; Charlotte, N.C.; and Texas, a charge employer representatives vehemently deny.
"Everyone agrees these are good-paying jobs," ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said. "The difference is here that the companies resent providing those good-paying jobs in the long run and have taken steps to steadily ship them elsewhere to the detriment of the local communities around the harbor."
Berry, an attorney at Paul Hastings LLP, said the real problem is so-called feather-bedding -- or a contractual requirement that forces employers to hire temporary or permanent employees when they're not needed.
"This accusation of outsourcing is just a red herring," Berry said. "Why would we outsource their jobs when we have given them a guaranteed job for life?"
Elsewhere, the strikes have not had any impact, as of yet, on the movement of goods via freight, said Lena Kent, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
"We'll certainly have to watch it and see where it leads to, but at this time it's not having an impact on our operations," Kent said of the strike. "We're certainly watching it closely."
The situation was the same for Union Pacific Railroad, where officials Wednesday were continuing to monitor the situation closely, said company spokesman Aaron Hunt.
As for traffic, the impact appeared minimal Wednesday.
"It's still too early to tell what kind of impact the strike will have on Inland Empire traffic," said Officer Mario Lopez, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol's Inland Division.
More than 10,000 commercial tractor-trailers go through the truck scales on both the northbound and southbound sides of Interstate 15 every week, according to CHP figures. That number could be much higher because the truck scales are only open Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"We have so much truck traffic in the Inland Empire from other industries that I don't think we'll see much of an impact initially," said Terri Kasinga, a spokeswoman for Caltrans 8, which monitors the Inland Empire highways and freeways.
A prolonged strike could have some effect on local highways and freeways, but Kasinga believes it may be minimal.
Staff writers Karen Robes Meeks, Beatriz E. Valenzuela and Joe Nelson contributed to this article.
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