INCLUDED IN THE NEW "master contracts" between North Atlantic shipping associations and the International Longshoremen's Association is a pledge committing both sides to do their utmost, without delay, to see that more stripping and stuffing of containers is done at the waterfront by ILA labor. The clause is practically identical in the master contract agreed to by the New York and Boston shipping associations and the Carriers Container Council and the separate contract accepted by the Council of North Atlantic Shipping Associations, covering Hampton Roads, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Providence. It is noteworthy that the new contracts bind the parties to act on this matter ''immediately"- a word inserted at the ILA's urging.
What this provision does, among other things, is bring to the fore some obvious doubts concerning the present effectiveness of the hard-fought container rules in the union's contract. These include such requirements as the "50-mile rule," by which containers with the freight of more than one shipper, going to or from points within 50 miles of a port, must be stripped or stuffed by ILA labor at the waterfront, and the rule requiring that if loaded containers are sent to a port area warehouse, they must remain there for 30 days before the contents can be shipped out to consignees.After a decade or so of litigation, the rules were upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States as a legitimate form of "work preservation" by the ILA that did not violate the National Labor Relations Act. The Federal Maritime Commission heard arguments last February as to whether the rule violated the shipping laws, and its decision is awaited. Whatever it is, it could be appealed to the courts by the losing side. It should be noted that in the long fight before the National Labor Relations Board and the courts over the "work preservation" issue, the ILA and North Atlantic waterfront management made common cause, defending the legitimacy of their negotiated contract - although at first the management arguments stated freely that the employers didn't like the rules, but had accepted them as the price of labor peace. In any event, the rules are in force, and have been for some time.
So why were those container clauses about getting the stripping and stuffing work back to the piers necessary in the new contracts? There are at least three answers: (1) The ILA wants to regain for its members the work that
keeps slipping away; (2) Management groups - the shipping associations - want to assure a steady flow of revenue to support the ILA benefit funds, and contributions are based on man-hours worked; (3) Both ILA employment and benefit funds are constantly feeling the pressures of new competition, from non-union terminals and such developments as the cross-country double-stack container trains.
But there is still another question, perhaps the most important. It is: Do the container rules really work? For years, defenders of the rules spoke of them as a modest imposition, designed to keep only 20 percent of the container stripping and stuffing for ILA labor at the piers. In fact, the estimates one hears are that the ILA is getting less than 10 percent of that work - as little as 6 percent, according to one union source.
The Supreme Court, the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Maritime Commission all could agree that the container rules are legal. That still would not necessarily make them either effective or desirable, whether
from the standpoint of transportation efficiency or stabilizing longshore employment. The shipper routes his cargo according to the dictates of economy and service. Extra costs and restrictions that hamper the flow of goods without regard to the special needs of shipper and consignee will never attract cargo - or vessel traffic, for that matter.
The ILA contract provision that deals with this problem declares: "The parties agree that every effort shall be made to have containers, both those covered by the Rules on Containers and minibridge less-than-trailerlo ad containers, stuffed and stripped at waterfront facilities. The return to the waterfront facilities of LTL-container stuffing and stripping shall be a matter of the essence of this agreement. To encourage such work with special attention to minibridge LTL containers, the parties shall meet immediately after ratification (of the contract) to adopt programs, which shall devise methods and practices of stuffing and stripping containers in a competitive manner."
That's a tall order. The key word is "competitive," and no program will have a chance unless it can provide all that that word implies. ILA wage scales and the container rules, as they stand, make the challenge of finding such a program doubly difficult.