Negotiators for the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance are scheduled to meet Wednesday to resume stalled contract bargaining under supervision of a federal mediator.
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is overseeing the talks, aimed at working out a contract covering ILA dockworkers on containerized and roll-on, roll-off cargo from Maine to Texas. The current ILA-USMX coastwide master contract expires Sept. 30.
The renewal of negotiations has prompted speculation that if this week’s meetings show progress, the two sides could agree to continue talking under a temporary extension past the contract expiration. However, there’s been no such agreement yet.
This week’s meetings will be the first since talks broke off Aug. 22 over the ILA’s refusal to discuss management proposals for changes to work rules and overtime pay practices that drive up cargo-handling costs, especially in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Employers want to address provisions, many dating back decades, that require high levels of staffing and overtime pay. ILA President Harold Daggett said the proposed changes would undo years of union gains.
The ILA hasn’t had a coastwide work stoppage since a 1977 strike that targeted container, ro-ro and barge-carrying ships. Breakbulk cargo is covered by supplemental local contracts. Negotiation of breakbulk issues in some of those contracts have continued since master-contract talks were halted.
Some shippers have responded to the threat of an East and Gulf Coast work stoppage by moving cargo early to pad inventories, or by snapping up space on West Coast services, where capacity was already tight headed into the holiday peak season.
Several container ship lines have announced congestion surcharges that would take effect at U.S. ports if there’s a work stoppage. Carriers say the surcharges, $1,000 or more per 40-foot box, are needed to offset costs of ship charters, adjustments to inland transportation, and delays at ports.