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LA ports reopen after crippling 8-day strike ends

Shipping containers piled up in the port clerks strike in Los Angeles during eight days. Workers won modest gains.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Shipping containers piled up in the port clerks strike in Los Angeles during eight days. Workers won modest gains.

LOS ANGELES — Port clerks returned to work Wednesday, jubilant in the knowledge that an eight-day strike that paralyzed the nation’s busiest shipping complex had won them — at least for now — guarantees that their jobs won’t be outsourced to China, Arizona, or other places.

The 600 clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union won only modest gains in wage and pension benefits in the new four-year contract.

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But more importantly, said union spokesman Craig Merrilees, they won promises from management that, as workers retire or leave the ports during the next four years, no more than 14 jobs will be outsourced. Companies also must continue to provide workers to fill in for vacationing employees and those who take extended absences, but they do not have to cover for short-term illnesses or bereavement leave.

‘‘The key issue in this whole strike was the outsourcing of good jobs, and they won protections against outsourcing abuses,’’ Merrilees said.

He acknowledged that the issue would likely be front and center in negotiations when the new contract expires in 2016.

Shippers denied outsourcing jobs, but strikers said they had proof.

Trinnie Thompson, a unionsteward, said workers have seen invoices and e-mail showing some of their responsibilities being usurped by people in offices in Costa Rica, Shanghai, Colorado, and Arizona.

‘‘They take a job here in California where the average salary is $65,000 and are paying only $30,000 in a state like Arizona,’’ she said.

The clerks handle such tasks as filing invoices and billing notices, arranging dock visits by customs inspectors, and ensuring that cargo moves off the dock quickly and gets where it is supposed to go.

The increased computerization of such tasks, which allows them to be performed in cities far from the ocean, makes the clerks especially vulnerable, say labor experts.

‘‘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, has been a trend in the United States for decades, he said.

‘‘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. With overtime and generous benefits, they receive average annual compensation of $165,000 that will rise to about $195,000 if the proposed contract is ratified.

They also receive pensions and 11 weeks of time off.

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