Post-mortem on ILA contract vote

Atlantic and Gulf ports are still buzzing over this month's rejection by ILA delegates of a two-year contract extension -- and are wondering what it means for next year.
For cargo interests and carriers, the "no" vote  by the ILA's 200 wage-scale delegates adds uncertainty to what's already shaping up as an uncertain 2010. Negotiations on a new contract between the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance probably won't resume until next year, closer to when the current contract  expires next September.

For ILA members, there's also uncertainty. Wage-scale delegates rejected the extension primarily because it did not halt the spread of labor-saving technology. A secondary reason was the offer's proposed one-year deferral of an Oct. 1 wage increase  -- a move designed to help pay for raises that would have narrowed the gap between ILA wage tiers and immediately boosted starting pay from $16  an hour to $20.

Opponents of the extension persuaded wage-scale delegates to delay negotiations in hope the economy will improve and they'll be able to extract more pay and other concessions, including a halt on further introduction of technology.

That strategy, however, is not a sure bet -- and not just because the economy's unpredictability. USMX is adamant that employers won't yield the right to introduce technology. And because the Oct. 1 wage increase will already have taken effect, there'll be one less option for funding the cost of enhanced wages and benefits  in the new contract .

USMX Chairman James Capo said immediately after the Sept. 2 vote  that management was disappointed in rejection of what it considered to be a fair offer in a difficult economy. In a press release Tuesday, USMX reiterated its position and provided additional stats: it said the extension's immediate increase in starting pay would have covered 12 percent of the ILA workforce, and that subsequent increases would have put 85 percent of workers  at top scale of $32 an hour by the end of  the contract extension in 2012 ."The ILA is  completely overlooking the financial gains each and every member will enjoy, in order to veto any implementation of new technology," Capo said.

Capo added: "It is unfortunate that the ILA rank and file did not get the opportunity to study the facts of the management proposal before the Wage Scale Committee voted it down."

The decision by wage-scale delegates not to submit the extension offer to a rank-and-file vote has become a point of contention within the ILA. Before  the extension was voted down, some delegates raised the possibility of submitting the proposal for a membership vote -- with a "yes" or "no" recommendation or with no recommendation from the wage scale committee. But opponents of the extension nixed the idea, and the question was never put to an official vote.

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