United States Maritime Alliance Chairman and CEO James Capo said he is “very hopeful and even cautiously optimistic” that management and the International Longshoremen’s Association will reach a new contract.
Geoffrey Giovanetti, managing director of the Wine and Spirits Shipper Association, echoed Capo’s optimism, saying he doubted there would be a strike or work stoppage at East and Gulf Coast ports. The comments by the duo at the National Industrial Transportation Policy Forum were made as Bob McEllrath, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, reiterated his pledge of support for the ILA.
Capo said he realizes that shippers need to know no later than July whether they will need to divert cargo to other ports. Labor negotiations normally don’t brush up against the deadline, which is Sept. 30, but Capo said the latest set of talks is far from normal.
He said there hasn’t been talk of extending the current contract. When asked by a forum policy on whether the ILWU would exercise their “veiled threat” to strike in solidarity with the ILA, Capo shot back, “Good luck.” The USMX chief then said it isn’t clear whether the ILWU would follow though in their threat, largely because the 2002 lockout on the West Coast caused them to lose business to the ILA.
“I think our guys understand that, and they don’t want to give (the cargo business) back,” Capo told attendees of the Washington, D.C., forum. “Conversely, the ILWU would like some of (the business back).”
The ILWU has a no-strike clause in its contract, which extends to 2014. The ILWU occasionally tests employers by stopping work at specific ports or marine terminals, but contact arbitration procedures quickly cut short such labor actions.
Capo said the presidential election comes roughly five weeks after the expiration of the ILA-USMX contract. Negotiations would receive “a lot of attention from Washington” if talks falter, he said.
“My basic message is that we need to get this done. I’d be foolish to think that if things don’t go well, we won’t have a lot of help. And a lot of that help we don’t need,” Capo said.
Although Giovanetti expects a contact to be struck, he advised shippers to stock up on shipments and consider routing cargo through ports other than those on the U.S East and West coasts. He warned, however, that the ports of Montreal and Halifax wouldn’t be able to handle a complete diversion of East and West Coast cargo, and rail capacity on the West Coast would also be strained if cargo was shifted.