EASTERN CANADA'S PORTS, stevedoring firms and ship lines are understandably worried about the plan of the International Longshoremen's Association to create a new union district covering the country's eastern area. There have been what might be considered tentative steps in the direction of multi-port bargaining in the past, but nothing on the scale of an ILA district negotiating a single master contract for ports from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Quebec and Montreal on the St. Lawrence and Hamilton and Toronto on Lake Ontario. Up to now, the ILA in Canada has negotiated contracts on an individual port basis.

Creating the eastern Canada district can be viewed as no more than a logical union response to the fact that employers already have their own multi-port organization. Opinions on the plan itself will depend on its specific contents, when and if it is approved by the union membership in the ports involved. However, even though the ILA in Canada jealously maintains its autonomy, it is easy to imagine Canadian waterfront employers wondering if they are to be led down the same path that brought about such confusion, divisiveness and ill will to the ILA contract negotiations on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts this past year.The ILA's international president, Thomas W. Gleason, has been invited to attend a meeting of the Canadian membership on the district plan next month. His position in leading U.S. contract negotiations for many years has been unswervingly in favor of greater uniformity in the ILA's contracts. On that score, he suffered some severe setbacks in last year's negotiations, setbacks that came as much from a rebellion by ILA members in southern ports, who saw their jobs threatened by costly contract clauses, as they did from hard-line management bargaining. Neither the ILA's Gulf and South Atlantic District nor its Atlantic Coast District, covering the Boston-to-Norfolk range, negotiated as a unit. Only 1989 will provide the real answer, but at this point there is every reason to believe that this trend toward regional contracts, enabling employers and longshoremen alike to come to grips with economic pressures in their own stretch of coastline, will continue.

In eastern Canada the proposed ILA district will face the same kind of pressures. It would embrace well over a thousand miles of coastline, with ports large and small, some handling a wide variety of cargoes, others only a few. The ILA's first task, and a monumental one, would be to determine what level of wages, gang sizes and benefits the different categories of ports or cargoes could sustain while encouraging a good traffic flow.

A master contract for eastern Canada ports, even with differing requirements for different types of ports or terminals, would tend to illuminate more clearly than at present the terms acceptable to the ILA in the new district, as compared with those in its contracts at competing ports south of the border. Diversion of cargo from U.S. to Canadian ports has long been a sensitive point in the Boston-to-Norfolk range even though Canadian officials have insisted there is an almost equal flow of cargo from their country through U.S. ports. Containerships at major eastern Canadian ports have long been unloaded with ILA gangs a fraction of the size required by the union's contracts at ports on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Halifax has container gangs of a foremen plus seven men; Montreal uses gangs of seven to nine men. Autonomy in Canada aside, Mr. Gleason could find himself pressed more than ever to explain how the union he heads can accept in Canada container gang sizes that would be rejected as outrageous if proposed by U.S. employers.

The same is true of the container rules. The Canadian ILA has no 50-mile rule, the contract device intended to assure for longshoremen at the piers the work of loading or unloading container traffic - with some exceptions - generated within that radius of a port. Again, what's acceptable to the ILA in Canada is unthinkable for the union in the United States. A district-wide contract for eastern Canada could heighten feelings about the issue among ILA employers and shippers in the United States.

As of 1985, the total of hourly wages and fringe benefits for Canadian longshoremen varied widely from port to port. In Canadian dollars, they ranged

from $30.10 in Montreal to $26.65 in the port of Quebec, $25.17 in Saint John, New Brunswick, $24.54 in Halifax, and from something over $15 to just over $20 in a number of small ports. Those small ports, moreover, are said to have been capturing some cargoes like asbestos and newsprint from Quebec and imports of Chinese cotton from Montreal. Until the actual intra-district contract relationships are made clear, the impact of the ILA plan for eastern Canada's ports can only be guessed at. But two likely consequences can be seen in the light of the union's 1986 experience in U.S. contract negotiations. First, devising a master contract for the entire district will be an extremely difficult task. Second, its provisions will very likely foster demands in U.S. eastern ports for something approaching equal treatment by the ILA.

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