UPDATE 4/8/11 4:00 p.m. -- The strike was called off Friday afternoon.
The International Longshoremen's Association is threatening to strike in the Port of New York and New Jersey on Monday in a dispute over a new contract's language covering repairs of intermodal chassis.
The ILA obtained a demonstration permit from the port authority, and two union locals representing maintenance and repair workers are prepared to strike if the dispute isn't settled, said Harold Daggett, the ILA's executive vice president and head of Local 1804-1. Daggett is expected to become the ILA's next president in July.
A strike by the M&R locals would idle the port if longshoremen covered by a separate contract with the New York Shipping Association refuse to cross the picket lines.
The dispute between Locals 1804-1 and 1814 and the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association has been simmering since the end of last year, when the locals and the Metro association agreed to a contract extension through 2012.
Daggett said the Metro association has refused to sign off on a contract provision he said allows the ILA to inspect chassis provided by truckers not covered by the union contract, and to refuse to load containers on chassis that aren't roadworthy.
"They agreed to it and we all initialed it when we negotiated the contract. Now they're trying to back out of it," Daggett said. "We gave them 30 days and we've waited long enough. If they don't type it up and sign it and send it over, we'll be on strike Monday."
J. Randolph Brown, president of the Metro association, could not be reached immediately for comment. Metro directors were reported to be meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the situation.
Daggett said the disputed clause says: "In order to comply with new federal regulations and moral obligations and public safety, all equipment (containers and chassis) must be inspected at the terminal depots to ensure all equipment is safe and roadworthy before being released."
He contends the new language puts in writing what the ILA has been doing for the last three or four years. "When a driver brings in his own chassis, we give it a fast inspection. If we see bald tires or brakes not working, we tell the guy we're not putting a box on the chassis," he said. "We're not letting anything off the pier that could kill somebody when it gets on the road."
Trucker-owned chassis account for only a small percentage of chassis moving through terminal gates in New York-New Jersey. Most truckers use chassis provided by ship lines or by leasing companies that use ILA labor for maintenance and repairs.
If the ILA goes on strike next week, it would be the union's second work stoppage at the port in seven months. Last September the ILA closed the port for two days when dockworkers refused to cross picket lines of Philadelphia ILA members protesting the shift of work to a non-ILA terminal.
Carriers and terminals in the New York Shipping Association claimed that work stoppage was an illegal strike, and sued the union for several million dollars in damages. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Newark.