The International Longshoremen’s Association and its East and Gulf coast employers exchanged initial contract proposals and expressed confidence about reaching a strike-free agreement well before the current pact expires Sept. 30.
“We had a productive exchange of ideas that will give us a good start toward negotiating a contract sooner, rather than later, in 2012,” ILA President Harold Daggett and James Capo, chairman and CEO of United States Maritime Alliance, said in a joint statement.
“Both sides recognize the importance of the East and Gulf coast ports to the nation’s economy and remain committed to reaching an agreement without any disruption to port operations,” Daggett and Capo said.
The statement sought to dampen shippers’ concerns about a work stoppage when the union’s current contract expires in six months. Some shippers have said they may divert some of their cargo to the West Coast as early as mid-summer if the ILA-USMX negotiations don’t show progress.
The ILA and USMX exchanged initial proposals following meetings in Tampa by the union’s wage scale committee, composed of delegates from East and Gulf coast ports.
Details of the proposals were not released but participants described the proposals as general in nature. They will be fleshed out in subsequent negotiating sessions that probably will begin in April.
The ILA’s top demands include automation, jurisdiction, chassis and overweight containers, the four issues Daggett previously identified as potential strike issues. USMX expressed a desire for a six-year contract, which ILA officials said they viewed favorably.
The exchange of contract proposals by the ILA and USMX followed presentations by both sides on the state of the maritime industry, and the impact of developments such as the opening of wider locks at the Panama Canal.
The ILA’s coast-wide master contract covers wages and other issues for container and roll-on, roll-off cargo. Supplemental local agreements cover work rules, benefits and other port-specific issues.
Last year the 14 ports covered by the master contract handled more than 110 million tons of import and export cargo.
USMX represents employers including 24 container lines, including the 10 largest carriers worldwide, and all major marine terminals and port associations on the East and Gulf coasts. The ILA represents 15,000 members at Atlantic and Gulf ports.