Think back to a year ago. In December 2012, the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance were locked in tense contract negotiations that had East and Gulf Coast ports on the brink of a strike.
That’s what was so remarkable about a White House event this week hosting ILA President Harold Daggett, recently retired USMX Chairman Jim Capo, other union and management officials, and George Cohen, soon-to-retire director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
The key participants in the ILA-USMX negotiations were invited to participate with the secretaries of labor and commerce and other officials in a program entitled “Partnerships That Work: The White House Labor and Management Summit.”
Who’da thunk it?
Last year’s ILA-management negotiations sessions were unusual, to put it mildly. Participants recall that the sessions began with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance, but quickly would turn into a shouting match. Without the deft touch of Cohen and his FMCS colleagues, the ILA likely would have called its first strike in 35 years.
But the process of bargaining was less important than the result. The negotiators kept to their task and avoided a strike. They agreed in April to a six-year coastwide contract that both sides could accept.
Now East and Gulf Coast port users — who a year ago were fretting over a potential ILA strike — are anticipating a possible bump in cargo from next year’s West Coast negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.
Which leaves us to wonder: If there’s a similar White House event next year touting labor-management cooperation, will the ILWU’s Bob McEllrath and the PMA’s Jim McKenna be on the invitation list?