ILA @ #TPM2012

If the Twitter-sphere at last week’s Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference made noises, it would have sounded like popcorn on a stove, a crackling, fast-paced virtual conversation drawing in those present in Long Beach and others, the common element being the hashtag #TPM2012.

Nowhere were tweets flying faster than during the instantly famous panel featuring International Longshoremen’s Association President Harold Daggett and United States Maritime Alliance President James Capo, organized and moderated by JOC Senior Editor Joe Bonney. The purpose was to discuss upcoming negotiations for a new master East and Gulf Coast container contract to replace the agreement set to expire on Sept. 30.

The outspoken Daggett was in his element in front of a transfixed audience of at least 1,200 (out of more than 1,800 attending the event this year). He was funny, serious, angry, threatening, theatrical and emotional. It was a performance the likes of which few in the room probably had ever witnessed. What follows are a few of the dozens of tweets tied to that session, with some slightly expanded commentary.

-- ILA: We have great leadership, confident we will get a contract, don’t want anyone to leave here thinking we are bent on a strike. #TPM2012 kbpmv

Well, this was one message out of the ILA panel. It was what ILA Vice President Benny Holland, who is more associated with the long period of labor peace under former ILA President John Bowers, felt compelled to interject to counter the aggressive talk from Daggett, who in his remarks and during a post-speech Q&A strongly implied certain issues (“Chassis, I repeat, chassis!”) could lead to labor action on the East Coast this year.

-- #TPM2012 Daggett: If management guarantees number of jobs, ILA will have no problem with automation. Otherwise this is a strike issue. portmod

As Daggett said during the session, “Automation is going to be the toughest issue to negotiate. If you just look at Europe ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg, and I can go on and on, you can see devastating effects of automation on labor and their families. This is a very serious subject for me and my ILA members.”

-- Daggett: Losses are not the result of labor costs. It’s because the carriers are ordering too many mega-ships too soon. #TPM2012 kbpmv

It can’t be said Daggett doesn’t have a knack for getting to the heart of an issue. The pressure is on in these negotiations because of carrier overcapacity and pressure on rates, which leads carriers to pressure their terminal operators for lower rates and higher productivity. Higher productivity means ships can get out of port faster and thus take greater advantage of slow-steaming to save fuel while still keeping on schedule.

-- Daggett: From a safety perspective, it is criminal that overweight containers are able to leave terminals and travel our highways. #TPM2012 kbpmv

To his credit, Daggett pointed out labor isn’t alone in combating the problem of overweight containers, where shippers overstuff the boxes with additional goods and then don’t declare the weight, leading to safety hazards at ports and on roads. The International Association of Ports and Harbors and the World Shipping Council last year agreed on a resolution pushed by Port of Los Angeles Director Geraldine Knatz to seek a globally binding rule at the International Maritime Organization. This is a case where labor and industry are on the same side.

-- “Big Harold was not pleased to read about Littlejohn,” Harold Daggett tells #TPM2012 in reference to buyer of Maersk chassis pool. PeterTirschwell

Littlejohn & Co., the private equity buyer of the Maersk chassis pool isn’t a signatory to the coastwise ILA contract and has no obligation to use ILA labor for maintenance and repair of chassis, a longtime ILA jurisdiction. Daggett said the ILA wasn’t consulted on the transaction. “We have been in the chassis business from the inception,” he said. “I’m going to declare war. And I think the ILWU is going to declare war. We had the chassis from day one. We’re not going to let chassis pools take our work from our terminals that we have had from the beginning and pick up any time they want.”

-- ILWU Big Bob McElrath says, “Harold, we’ve got your back.” Polite applause follows. #TPM2012 portmod

As Daggett said at one point during the panel, “We are working very closely with the ILWU,” which is also known to be upset about chassis developments as carriers finally fulfill their multidecade desire to withdraw from providing chassis in the U.S. market.

-- Panel at #TPM2012: Shippers are VERY nervous about the next contract expiration, which is causing speculation to diversions to the USWC. CHRobinson

-- #TPM2012 after Daggett’s rhetoric other ILA members say that two sides will work out a settlement so shippers should not divert cargo. portmod

It might be too late.

Peter Tirschwell is senior vice president for strategy at UBM Global Trade. Contact him at ptirschwell@joc.com, and follow him at twitter.com/PeterTirschwell.

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