Although the direction of the U.S. and the European economies are major questions hanging over global trade heading into 2012, there are two important issues facing East Coast ports. One concerns the longshoremen’s contract and the other dredging.
Negotiations for a new contract with the International Longshoremen’s Association will open in February or March in Florida. The Wage Scale Committee of the ILA is scheduled to meet in Tampa in mid-March, so the opener for the big contract probably will follow at that time. Harold Daggett, recently elected as president of the ILA, will head the negotiating team for union. Jim Capo, who will head up the management side, has made it clear this will be his last negotiation. Dave Adams has come on board to back him up. Capo and Daggett have had a couple of informal discussions already about place and time. The ILA has advised all its East and Gulf Coast locals to select their Wage Scale members in order to be ready for the talks.
Both sides understand that the maritime industry is at its best when management and labor work together. We cannot afford any business interruptions. Ports are among the very best economic generators in the world and provide good paying, family-supporting jobs. To keep that momentum going and sustain all of those jobs, we need a contract fair to all parties.
Our other hot button issue concerns dredging. Channels into East Coast ports need to be continuously cleared to accommodate ships that are growing in size. However, federal funding for expensive dredging projects has declined while costs of fuel, steel and labor have increased. It is particularly disturbing that the federal government has collected fees on imports in the form of the Harbor Maintenance Tax but is not allowing those funds to be devoted to channels deep and clear. Several members of Congress have introduced legislation to require that all HMT collections be walled off exclusively for dredging. Named the Retain America’s Maritime Promise, or RAMP bill, it is expected to be included with the Surface Transportation Bill, and it is important to ensure the continued growth of our business.
Deep channels are as critical to our industry as ships themselves. Without deep channels, not only are U.S. ports disadvantaged, so is the U.S. economy.