ILA-USMX: Down to the Wire?

Harold Daggett isn’t saying so, but the International Longshoremen’s Association president seems to have opened the door for a second ILA contract extension.

That’s how I interpret the latest twist in eight months of negotiations of a Maine-to-Texas dockworker contract between the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance.

A small group of ILA and USMX representatives will meet next Tuesday to discuss container royalties. Daggett said that if those talks work out well, he’s prepared to call off a threatened year-end strike. He didn’t mention an extension, but if the strike threat is called off, it seems likely the Dec. 29 deadline could be pushed into January.

Daggett’s statement about Tuesday’s meetings capped three days of contentious bargaining with USMX representatives in Delray Beach, Fla., this week. “We did a lot of yelling and screaming, and got a lot off our chests,” Daggett said, in what others described as a rare understatement by the ILA president.

Before the initial session with USMX, Daggett won authorization from the ILA’s 200-member wage scale committee to call a strike if a deal isn’t reached when a 90-day contract extension expires on Dec. 29. The delegates’ vote was designed to bolster the ILA president’s negotiating stance and ratchet up pressure on employers.

USMX is resisting the pressure. In contrast to some previous negotiations, container ship lines and other employers this year seem determined to achieve productivity gains and rein in costs. Many USMX carriers are the same ones that took an eight-day strike this month by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Office Clerical Unit on the West Coast.

Complete Coverage of ILA-USMX Negotiations

It will be interesting to see how the ILA and USMX address container royalties, an issue that’s difficult to consider in isolation. Annual royalty checks, financed by carriers’ per-ton payments on containerized cargo, are just one facet of a complex ILA wage-benefit package. If container lines are too generous with royalties, the carriers must make it up somewhere else. If the union makes concessions on royalties, it will seek offsetting gains.

That’s give and take, something that’s been in short supply in these negotiations. For weeks after their 90-day extension in September, the ILA and USMX made little apparent progress. It wasn’t until this week that the ILA, prodded by a federal mediator, fleshed out its general demands with specific contract proposals.

But now the two sides finally seem to have gotten down to business. If next week’s meeting can produce movement on the royalty issue, don’t be surprised if they agree to another short-term extension. Negotiators still have lots left to do, and little time before Dec. 29.

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com and follow him at twitter.com/JosephBonney.

 

 

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