Changing of the Guard

From left: James Capo, Brian Dugan, Joseph CurtoFrom left: James Capo, Brian Dugan, Joseph Curto

Anyone who followed the heated back-and-forth of the recent International Longshoremen’s Association contract negotiations might wonder how the two sides could ever work together. Truth is, they have no choice.

Tempers sometimes flare during bargaining, as we saw during the ILA talks. But the work of union and management representatives doesn’t end with a contract deal. After they shake hands on an agreement, they spend the next several years discussing what it means and smoothing out details.

When people spend that much time together, even on opposite sides of the table, they usually develop respectful relationships. That’s the case with the ILA and its employers. They’re vigorous advocates for their constituencies, but they’re professionals who don’t let their differences become personal.

That was evident Wednesday night at a dinner honoring three longtime waterfront management executives who have retired since last spring’s ILA contract agreements. Nearly 200 management and labor officials and others showed up to recognize James Capo, who retired as USMX chairman and CEO; Joseph C. Curto, who stepped down as president of the New York Shipping Association, and Brian Dugan, who was USMX’s vice president, labor relations.

ILA President Harold Daggett got a laugh from the audience when he joked that he wasn’t the reason the three management officials simultaneously retired after negotiating a contract with him.

The gathering also offered a capsule glimpse of container shipping during during the last half century. Capo, Curto and Dugan had a big part in shaping its development. Along with Anthony Scioscia, who retired in March as Maersk’s top U.S. labor relations executive, they have a total of some 160 years in the industry. Their departures represent a changing of the guard.

Capo is the relative newcomer among this group. He joined the industry in 1990 after two decades in the auto and manufacturing industries. At the NYSA and USMX, he negotiated two decades of strike-free contracts, including the latest one. He and the late ILA leader John Bowers worked out the 1996 agreement for the union’s coastwide healthcare program.

Curto spent 37 years at Maher Terminals, working on everything from Maher’s 1970s relationship with the “Japan 5” lines (remember them?) to the company’s pioneering terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. When he became NYSA president in 2009, he focused on changes that produced a landmark local contract aimed at bolstering the Port of New York and New Jersey’s competitiveness.

Dugan held important behind-the-scenes roles at USMX and earlier at Sea-Land, where he began his career in 1965 as a terminal manager at Trenton, N.J. (Yes, Trenton – Sea-Land was still a domestic carrier then. It didn’t begin international service until the following year.)

Wednesday’s dinner speeches and introductions featured jokes about past negotiations and golf and other retirement pursuits. Daggett assured the new retirees that if their changed routines get too slow, he’s ready to help: “If you ever want to work for the ILA, we’ll hire every one of you.”

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

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