International Longshoremen’s Association President Harold Daggett said long delays at the Port of New York and New Jersey before the Memorial Day holiday weekend were not the result of an intentional slowdown by ILA dockworkers.
Daggett took issue with Journal of Commerce stories describing the delays as slowdowns. He said he instructed ILA workers to inspect chassis and containers “by the book” to emphasize safety, and that the inspections were coincidental to a dispute over the firing of two ILA workers at APM Terminals.
“There were two separate issues,” Daggett said in telephone interview. “One of them was the fight over the two guys being fired the wrong way. The other was to show them that if we went strictly by the book, they couldn’t handle it, because we don’t have enough men out there. It wasn’t a slowdown.”
Drayage drivers endured waits of up to several hours beginning last Wednesday as ILA workers conducted time-consuming inspections of chassis and containers at port terminals. Daggett said the ILA kept trucks at least 24 feet apart “so members don’t have to breathe the fumes.”
The dispute over the fired workers was settled Friday under union-management contract dispute resolution procedures, and the New York Shipping Association issued a statement saying the ILA had agreed to resume normal operations. Work was proceeding at normal speed when terminal gates reopened after the weekend.
Daggett said he called off the intensive equipment inspections Friday after criticism that the inspections were delaying cargo. “We went back to the way it was because the port authority was screaming that roads were backed up. I’m the good guy here. I want to do something about safety.”
The New York-New Jersey delays were widely viewed as an effort by the ILA to flex its muscle during negotiations on a new union contract. Daggett insisted that wasn’t the case, and said the ILA was merely trying to emphasize the need for improved safety.
He noted that more than a dozen ILA workers have been killed in accidents at East and Gulf Coast ports in recent years.
Daggett would not elaborate on his letter Friday to ILA locals saying the union and United States Maritime Alliance have not resumed contract negotiations and that “it appears at this time that USMX is unwilling to agree to the ILA’s main demand for job protection for the members affected by automated terminals.”
“I can’t answer that now, because we’ve promised not to discuss strategy,” he said. “The letter speaks for itself.”