Contract talks resumed Sunday afternoon hours before a midnight deadline as the port clerks union and shipping line representatives sought to avert a strike that threatened to paralyze the nation’s largest port complex. If other union longshore workers refuse to cross picket lines, the office staffers’ walkout could result in major delays at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together account for about 40percent of all the cargo container traffic coming into the country. Picket lines will go up at the employers’ gates shortly after 12:01a.m. today if no agreement is reached, said John Fageaux Jr., president of the office clerical unit of Local63, a division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The local handles the paperwork for the cargo ships that come to port. The ILWU has indicated that it will honor Local 63 picket lines, which would effectively shut down the twin Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. A work stoppage could create ripple effects throughout many industries that depend on timely movement of cargo. In 2002, longshore workers across the West Coast were locked out for 10 days. The shutdown cost the nation’s economy an estimated $1billion to $2billion a day. This year’s threatened work stoppage would come as the ports enter their busy pre-holiday season, when shippers depend on the facilities to handle imports. The clerks have been working without a contract since July1. They have voted to authorize their union leaders to call a strike, if necessary. Under their most recent contract, full-time port clerical workers earned about $37.50 an hour, or $78,000 a year. They also receive a pension, health care benefits free of premiums and 20 paid holidays a year. Steve Berry, lead negotiator for the 14 marine terminal operators and other companies who employ the office clerks, said late last week that employers’ latest offer included raises that over the life of a three-year contract would bump the employees’ hourly pay to $39.20, while the union is seeking increases that would equal $53 per hour by the last year of the contract.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!