Negotiations for a new International Longshoremen’s Association contract covering dockworkers at East and Gulf Coast ports broke down Wednesday, and ILA President Harold Daggett warned that a strike is likely when the current contract expires Sept. 30.
“It looks like we’re going to have a strike,” Daggett told The Journal of Commerce after what was expected to be three days of negotiations with United States Maritime Alliance ended abruptly after a 20-minute meeting.
USMX Chairman/CEO James Capo said USMX and its members were “disappointed with the uncompromising stand the ILA leadership is taking in the negotiations” by defending “archaic” practices such as New York-New Jersey work rules that provide some ILA members with round-the-clock pay for a few hours’ work.
No new negotiations are scheduled on the coastwide ILA-USMX contract. Bargaining also was suspended on supplementary local and regional contracts.
The ILA and New York Shipping Association had been scheduled to hold negotiations next week on work rules, pensions and other port-specific practices.
Daggett said he would ask USMX for a final offer to present to the union’s 200-member wage scale committee. “I expect they’ll reject it, and vote to go on strike,” he said.
Wednesday’s sudden breakdown in negotiations came less than a month after Daggett and Cap reported progress in efforts to negotiate a new six-year contract.
Negotiations bogged down over management’s insistence on productivity and efficiency improvements, especially in Port of New York and New Jersey, which Capo said has become ”the most expensive in the world.”
“I thought we were doing OK until they dropped the bomb on us,” Daggett said,referring to management’s insistence on discussing productivity and efficiency at East and Gulf Coast ports. He complained that the proposed changes would eliminate decades of ILA gains and were unacceptable to the union.
Daggett added that he believed USMX members may have had second thoughts about tentative agreements last month on two key contract issues — a framework for expanded automation, and protection of ILA jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair.
“I think they’re also worried that whatever deal they give us, they’re going to have to provide for the West Coast,” he said. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s contract covering West Coast ports expires in mid-2014.
Daggett also noted that the ILA recently affiliated with the International Dockworkers Council, and expects IDC-affiliated dockworker unions in other nations to support any ILA work stoppage.
The collapse of the ILA-USMX talks sent shippers into emergency mode. Many already have accelerated shipments or are diverting cargo to the West Coast, Canada or Mexico as a hedge against a work stoppage at the end of September.
The ILA hasn’t had a coastwide strike since 1977.
Capo said USMX is willing to bargain in good faith, and urged the ILA to commit to substantive negotiations.
New York Shipping Association President Joseph Curto said the NYSA is “extremely disappointed” the talks “ended abruptly without any agreements to address any of the issues that are important to the Port of New York.
He said the port is in position to benefit from the expanded Panama Canal and the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, but that it must improve its competiveness “by addressing manning, archaic work practices, and other historic inefficiencies that have plagued our industry for decades.”
Capo said ILA members coastwide average $124,138 a year in wages and benefits, “which puts them ahead of all but 2 percent of all U.S. workers. They earn an average hourly wage of $50, more than double the $23.19 average for all U.S. union workers. They also pay no premiums and minimal co-pays and deductibles for a health care plan that is better than most U.S. employers provide their workers.
“At the Port of New York and New Jersey, 34 ILA members make over $368,000 a year in wages and benefits; one of every three makes over $208,000 a year — not including annual bonuses based on the weight of container cargo. These container royalties totaled $232 million in 2011 — or an average of $15,500 for ILA workers on the East and Gulf coasts.”