LOS ANGELES — Striking workers shut down the largest terminal at the Port of Los Angeles for a second day Wednesday, ignoring an arbitrator's order to return to work and raising the possibility of a larger job action that could paralyze the nation's busiest port complex.
About 70 clerical workers struck the APM Terminals operations on Pier 400 on Tuesday, raising the ante in a 2 1/2-year-old battle over union claims that management has been outsourcing well-paid jobs out of state and overseas.
Only a handful of workers were picketing early Wednesday, but dockworkers were honoring the walkout, and the terminal remained closed, although only two cargo ships were affected, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.
"It's not crippling the port by any means. We've got eight other container terminals up and running," he said.
The port is not operating at its peak because shipment of Christmas goods ended several weeks ago.
Los Angeles and Long Beach together have the nation's busiest port complex.
The strikers are from the Office Clerical Unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Local 63. Their contracts with 14 companies who operate most of the terminals at the twin ports expired in June 2010.
Years of contract-renewal negotiations ended with talks breaking off Monday, leading to the walkout.
An arbitrator ruled Tuesday night that the union was negotiating in bad faith with shippers and that the strike was invalid.
However, the order was ignored pending a planned Wednesday meeting between the union and shippers. Clerical workers held brief strikes in 2010 and 2011 that also ended after arbitrators ruled them improper.
For now, however, "they're on strike and picket lines are being respected," said Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman in San Francisco.
The union risks a "dangerous escalation" if they continue to ignore the order, said Stephen Berry, lead negotiator for the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, which represented the 14 terminal operators in contract talks.
"It could lead to a spread of the job actions beyond just one terminal" and that, in turn, could prompt shippers to lock out employees, he said.
At issue is the union's contention that terminal operators have outsourced clerical jobs to elsewhere in the U.S. and places such as Costa Rica, India and Taiwan. A union release contended that 51 clerical jobs have been lost in the past five years.
The negotiating group for the shippers denied that any local union clerical jobs were outsourced and said in a statement that the 51 workers had quit, died or retired with full benefits in the past three years.