The ups and downs of this year’s International Longshoremen’s Association contract negotiations resemble a stock price chart on a volatile trading day.
First came a big downer when ILA President Harold Daggett warned the TPM container shipping conference in March that a strike was possible. Three weeks later, the outlook brightened abruptly, as the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance swapped initial proposals and expressed confidence about an early agreement.
Then came more bad news, when Daggett complained that employers wouldn’t accept union demands on automation and chassis, and USMX Chairman and CEO James Capo accused Daggett of bad-faith bargaining.
Now the chart line is pointing upward again. Daggett said a second round of negotiations last month produced “substantial progress,” and that he hoped for a tentative agreement when talks resume July 18-21. The ILA president reported movement on the issues of job guarantees in exchange for automation, and union jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair.
Negotiators aren’t discussing details, but money will be central to any deal. The ILA knows it can’t stop automation, but wants a share of the savings. Besides job guarantees, the ILA has floated a proposal for a royalty fee on cargo moving through automated facilities.
On chassis, the union wants to protect its jurisdiction over intermodal equipment that ILA-contracted carriers are shifting to leasing companies. The lessors aren’t USMX members but have pledged to continue to hire ILA labor. It should be possible to work out something all can accept.
Harder to satisfy may be ILA demands to weigh import containers at terminals. Carriers have asked the International Maritime Organization to require containers to be weighed before export, as the U.S. has done for years, but ship lines and terminals worry about chaos and costs if overweight import boxes must be emptied and repacked on the docks.
Other contract issues, all difficult but solvable, include union demands for higher pay and continued carrier subsidies of ILA jobs at container freight stations, and management proposals for random drug and alcohol testing.
Yet to be seen is how negotiators handle management proposals to improve terminals’ productivity and reduce excess staffing. Employers complain that half their payroll costs are overtime. In the Port of New York and New Jersey, 40 percent of dockworkers’ paid hours are for time during which no work is performed.
Many of these staffing requirements date to the breakbulk era and are part of local or regional agreements negotiated after the coastwide contract. This year’s New York-New Jersey negotiations promise to be especially difficult.
How will these issues be settled? Will a deal be reached before the current contract expires on Sept. 30? We’ll find out soon. There will be more ups and downs in the weeks ahead, but at least the ILA and USMX are talking. For now, the chart is pointing upward.