The International Longshoremen’s Association formally asked United States Maritime Alliance for a final contract offer, but USMX Chairman/CEO James Capo said he can’t present one until bargaining is finished.
“I have nothing to offer,” Capo said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re still in negotiations. We’re a long way from being able to put together a final offer. We’re going to run out of time if something doesn’t happen.”
The ILA and USMX broke off contract talks Aug. 22 after ILA President Harold Daggett refused to commit to negotiations on work-rule changes management says are needed to improve productivity at East and Gulf Coast ports.
After talks broke down, Daggett said a strike appears likely when the union’s current contract expires Sept. 30. The ILA’s master contract covers all ports from Maine to Texas.
Nervous shippers are scrambling to implement costly contingency plans. Those plans include moving shipments early or diverting cargo to the West Coast, Canada or Mexico in order to meet deadlines for production or in-store availability.
Organizations including the National Industrial Transportation League, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and Waterfront Coalition have called for renewed negotiations.
“I sympathize with them, but I don’t know what to tell them,” Capo said of the shippers. “We’re ready to bargain, but we can’t negotiate with ourselves.”
The ILA and USMX reached agreement in principle in July on two of the union’s top objectives — a framework for continued automation and protection of ILA jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair.
Capo said, though, that the ILA has been unwilling to discuss management concerns or engage in comprehensive bargaining over other issues. Chief among those are hourly guarantees, staffing requirements and work rules that drive up overtime and other costs.
At the Port of New York and New Jersey, some 40 percent of hours paid to ILA members are for time in which no work is done. One-third of the port’s dockworkers are paid more than $208,000 a year in wages and benefits, in addition to annual bonuses based on container tonnage.
Daggett has defended ILA pay and accused management of trying to roll back gains the union has built over several decades.
“USMX demanded that the ILA give up its eight-hour guarantee that many port areas of the ILA have had for years,” Daggett said in a statement Friday. “USMX also demanded that the ILA radically change the hard-fought contractual rules for the payment of overtime. These were items that should not even have been part of the master contract discussions, but USMX insisted that talks could not continue unless we agreed to negotiate these items.”
Daggett said management presented a “take-it-or-leave it proposition.” Capo said USMX merely sought the ILA’s commitment to discuss issues of importance to management.
“I don’t think we expect to do everything at once, but we’ve got to sit down and put together a plan to address these things” Capo said.
“We really have to address the inefficiencies in the operation — the manning, the archaic work rules, all of this pay for time not worked,” he said. “They’ve got to be willing to talk about these things, and so far they haven’t been.”