July 29, 2008

Tentative Labor Pact Delivered

By Kris Hanson

Nearly five months of bargaining between longshore leaders and waterfront employers came to an end Monday, when a new tentative labor pact was reached for some 26,000 dockworkers along the West Coast.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association hammered out the final details of the six-year contract covering longshore workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle.

Neither side released details of the deal, which still must be ratified by union and PMA members.

"The ILWU negotiating committee is very pleased and feels like they met their goals of good jobs, safer jobs and an agreement that will help dockworkers and nearby communities," union spokesman Craig Merrilees told The Associated Press.

Added PMA spokesman Kevin Elliott: "We are thrilled to have an agreement that is going to return the ports to a productive, safe and efficient state. And that is good for the economy, good for workers and it is good for the industry."

The current six-year contract covering dockworkers expired July 1 without a strike or lockout, with both sides insisting they wanted to keep the ports running smoothly - even if they had to keep talking after the deadline.

The decision was a welcome break for the teetering U.S. economy, since the billions of dollars in cargo handled by the 29 ports represents about 11 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

During the last round of talks in 2002, the two sides hit a wall in late summer, causing employers to lock workers out for 10 days in retaliation - a maneuver that cost the national economy an estimated $1 billion in lost productivity per day. The dispute was resolved only through the intervention of a federal mediator.

This time, negotiators have worked feverishly toward a peaceful resolution, logging long hours on both holidays and weekends to reach an agreement.

This despite PMA accusations that longshoremen were dragging their feet on the job, causing productivity to drop up to 30 percent at ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland - claims the union say are grossly exaggerated.

Beaches polluted

Long Beach continues earning its reputation as one of California's most polluted beachfronts following the weekend closure of four swimming spots.

The city's Health Department shut the Marine Stadium beaches after 12,000 gallons of sewage leaked into Spinnaker Bay early Saturday.

Authorities blamed the spill on a sewage line that burst after clogging with grease (see story, Page A1).

The dirty beach designation, a title repeatedly bestowed upon the city in annual reports issued by both Heal The Bay and Surfrider, is blamed in large part on the Los Angeles River, a concrete channel funneling thousands of tons of litter and debris upon local beaches each year.

Beach conservationists also blame the Long Beach Breakwater - a 2.5-mile rock wall that prevents natural wave action and tidal flow along the waterfront.

Beer and fresh water

Long Beach Water Department spokesman Ryan Alsop and Surfrider rep Joe Geever are the featured guests at tonight's "Beer and Politics" monthly forum, where they'll discuss the merits of a planned water desalinization project.

The 7 p.m. forum, hosted by the Long Beach Junior Chamber, is on the rooftop patio at Smooth's Sports Grille, 144 Pine Ave., and is open to members of the public, who are invited to debate over a pint of beer.

The Surfrider Foundation is reportedly opposed to the waterfront desalinization plant on environmental grounds, while Long Beach Water supports it as a way to allay the city's growing water needs.

Last month's forum featured a feisty Smooth's owner John Morris defending a plan to re-divert the Los Angeles River into the port to clean up city beaches. To learn more, visit www.beerandpolitics.org or e-mail Michael Clements at [email protected]

Coast Guard rescuers

A 69-year-old diver was rescued after having trouble breathing on a dive near oil platforms south of Long Beach.

The man apparently ran into trouble about 110 feet below water near Oil Platform Eureka, prompting fellow divers to call the Coast Guard and Long Beach Fire.

The victim was later taken to a local hospital and was in good condition.

Sitting in about 700 feet of water, Platform Eureka is a popular diving spot for photographing and observing the sea life congregating around the platform's pillars.

[email protected], 562-499-1466.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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