The International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance will meet on Monday to resume contract negotiations amid growing concern about a Maine-to-Texas dock strike to start in 2013.
The ILA’s 200-member wage scale committee will gather in Delray Beach, Fla., for the first time since August, when negotiations broke off after ILA President Harold Daggett refused to discuss employer proposals on work rules and other issues.
Bargaining resumed in September after a federal mediator joined the talks, and the ILA and USMX extended their contract for 90 days past its original Sept. 30 expiration. The current expiration date is Dec. 29.
Negotiations hit a snag again last month when Daggett said the ILA wouldn’t accept changes in carrier-paid container royalties, and would resist work-rule changes. USMX Chairman/CEO James Capo responded that the ILA apparently views bargaining “as a one-way street that leads only in their direction.”
Publicly, the ILA and USMX have been quiet since then. Meanwhile, carriers and cargo interests are preparing for a strike while hoping the Florida meetings yield enough progress to avert a work stoppage.
The ILA hasn’t had a coastwide walkout since a 1977 strike that targeted containers and other automated cargo handling.
If the union strikes when its current contract expires, it most likely would start after the ILA’s paid New Year’s Day holiday. Any work stoppage would affect all container and roll-on, roll-off cargo covered by the coastwide master contract.
Work is expected to continue on breakbulk cargo, which is covered by supplementary local agreements. The ILA faces non-union competition for non-containerized shipments in many ports, and doesn’t want to encourage further inroads.
Retail organizations have urged the ILA and employers to continue bargaining and avoid a port shutdown. An extended strike would snarl supply chains and divert some cargo to the Canadian ports of Halifax and Montreal, and to the West Coast.
Sources on both sides say that unless there’s a short-term extension, a strike appears increasingly likely. The ILA and employers remain far apart on several issues.
Last July, the ILA and USMX reached tentative agreement on two of the union’s top goals — a framework for paying dockworkers displaced by automation, and tightening the ILA’s jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repairs. USMX, however, has complained that the union has refused to address management’s top concerns.
In the coastwide master contract, the union is resisting changes to contract language that triggers overtime pay for work outside 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Another master contract issue is USMX’s proposal to cap annual payments from carrier-paid container royalties at current levels, which averaged $15,500 per eligible worker last year, and use the excess to fund other ILA benefits.
In supplemental local agreements, the stickiest issues are at the Port of New York and New Jersey, where employers are seeking to change entrenched work rules and pay practices. These include requirements for extensive relief staffing, such as hiring three crane operators when only one is working at a time. Issues in other ports include minimum hourly guarantees and staffing levels.
The threat of an East and Gulf Coast port strike comes as carriers and cargo interests are still recovering from an eight-day strike that closed most of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The strike, by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Office Clerical Unit, ended this week with a tentative agreement.