The International Longshoremen's Association and waterfront management will begin negotiations on a new Atlantic and Gulf dockworker contract in February, more than a year-and-a-half before the current six-year contract expires.
The ILA locals have been selecting delegates to the union's wage-scale committee. The 200-plus wage-scale delegates will meet Jan. 5-9 in Tampa to work out the union's proposals for the Maine-to-Texas master contract.
The initial negotiating session between the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance, which represents management in coastwide negotiations, is scheduled for Feb. 9-13 in Orlando.
Richard Hughes, Jr., president of the ILA, and his USMX counterpart, James Capo, have said for months that they wanted to begin negotiations early, so that shippers would not be tempted to divert cargo from ILA ports as the contract expiration date of Sept. 30, 2010 draws near.
In an October speech to the Foreign Commerce Club of New York and New Jersey, Hughes said he was confident that the ILA, which has not had a coastwide work stoppage in three decades, would be able to negotiate a new or extended contract without a work stoppage.
"I have no reason to believe we will fail in our efforts to get a new contract that amply rewards our membership and helps the companies remain vibrant and profitable," Hughes said.
The ILA is expected to seek an end to a tiered-wage system established in 1996, and an end to caps on container royalties that provide dockworkers with annual bonuses. Medical and other benefit costs also will figure heavily in the give-and-take of negotiations, as will work jurisdiction and technology.
The union negotiations are conducted in two parts. The coastwide master contract establishes wages for container-handling and ro-ro cargo, and medical benefits for dockworkers. Separate negotiations at the port or regional level then establish local agreements that cover breakbulk and bulk cargo, and port-specific issues such as work rules and pensions.