The International Longshore and Warehouse Union issued a statement Tuesday alerting the maritime industry that West Coast dockworkers fully support the International Longshoremen’s Association in its efforts to protect job jurisdiction on the East and Gulf coasts as employers introduce new automated cargo-handling equipment.
“Their fight is our fight,” ILWU President Bob McEllrath said in reference to the contract negotiations that began last month between the ILA and USMX, which represents waterfront employers on the East and Gulf coasts.
ILA President Harrold Daggett told attendees at the annual Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference in Long Beach in March that automation would be one of the top issues in this year’s negotiations for a new master contract. The ILA “will not be deterred from protecting our work and our jurisdiction,” Daggett stated during the conference.
McEllrath said the ILWU, like the ILA, accepts the fact that automation is coming. The ILWU has a long history of working with employers to implement automation, dating back to the historic Mechanization and Modernization Agreement that ushered in the era of containerization at West Coast ports.
The ILWU in the 1960s accepted containerization because it was able to ensure that all work associated with the new technology would be assigned to the union. Employers today must prove to the ILWU and the ILA that the same guarantees are present.
“In the latest wave of terminal automation, it remains to be seen whether our employers are willing to assign us that work,” McEllrath said.
The ILWU remains skeptical about the intentions of employers. Even though the 2008 West Coast waterfront contract outlines the conditions for implementing the use of automated cargo-handling equipment, the employers “continue to refuse to honor the deal, forcing the ILWU to arbitrate issues that it thought were settled,” McEllrath said.
The ILWU will face the same issues involving automation when its contract negotiations are held in 2014, so the ILWU is supporting the ILA in its negotiations this year for a new contract, McEllrath said. The current ILA contract expires on Sept. 30.
McEllrath said the ILWU and ILA are in lockstep on the issue of automation. “Support between the two unions is essential to maintaining strong contracts on both coasts,” he said.
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