Contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance broke off today, raising the likelihood of a Maine-to-Texas dock strike at year-end.
“I think we’ll be on strike,” ILA President Harold Daggett said. He spoke after the union and USMX, meeting with a federal mediator, failed to reach agreement on carrier-paid container royalties that support annual payouts to ILA members.
Daggett said last week he would call off a threatened strike if negotiators could work out a deal on royalties. ILA wage-scale delegates voted last week to authorize Daggett to call a strike if there was no agreement when the union’s contract expires.
The ILA president said the union offered today to extend the contract to Feb. 1 but said USMX would have to agree to back off from proposed caps on container royalties. The current contract expires Dec. 29.
USMX proposed a Jan. 7 meeting but insisted that royalty caps must remain on the table. At that point, the meeting broke up, Daggett said.
“I told them they have until Dec. 29 to call me, and we’ll talk,” Daggett said. “Otherwise, at one minute past midnight on the 29th, we’ll be on strike. The ball’s in their court.”
USMX officials were not immediately available.
The ILA-USMX contract was extended last fall for 90 days past its initial Sept. 30 expiration. The two sides have negotiating off and on since March for a six-year contract covering about 15,000 ILA members handling containerized and roll-on, roll-off cargo in East and Gulf Coast ports.
Negotiators agreed last summer on ILA demands for payment of workers displaced by automation, and for guarantees of ILA jurisdiction over chassis repairs. Top remaining issues are container royalties and local work rules.
USMX had proposed to cap worker payouts from container royalties at existing levels, which average $15,500, and use the excess to fund other ILA benefits. USMX also proposed to eliminate royalties for new hires.
Daggett had insisted the ILA would not accept caps on carriers’ per-ton payments of container royalties, a program established in the 1960s to compensate ILA workers for the loss of jobs to automation. USMX said carriers paid $211 million, or $10 per man-hour, in royalties last year.
Besides royalties, contract issues include management proposals to provide local negotiators with flexibility to address work rules such as relief-staffing requirements at the Port of New York and New Jersey that allow many workers to be paid when they’re not working.
The ILA-USMX standoff forces shippers to accelerate strike contingency plans. Their limited options include diverting cargo to Canada, Mexico or the West Coast, or waiting and hoping their stockpiles are sufficient to ride out a strike.
Sixty-eight trade associations last week urged the ILA and USMX to “stay at the negotiating table until a deal is reached even if this extends beyond the current deadline of Dec. 29. The National Retail Federation on Monday urged President Obama to seek an injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act if necessary to keep East and Gulf ports open.
An ILA coastwide strike would affect container and roll-on, roll-off cargo. The ILA said it would continue to work breakbulk, cruise and military ships covered by local agreements. The union said it also would work perishables, but refrigerated and military containers moving on container ships idled by the strike would be affected.
In addition to the coastwide negotiations between the ILA and USMX, a Dec. 31 expiration looms for the ILA’s contract with the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors’ Association, which represents New York-New Jersey equipment maintenance and repair companies. The Metro association’s contract is not part of the coastwide master agreement, and a strike against the repair companies would idle the port.