This week’s bargaining on an International Longshoremen’s Association local contract for the Port of New York and New Jersey will determine whether East and Gulf Coast ports face the renewed threat of an ILA strike.
Many assumed a tentative deal Feb. 1 on a coastwide master contract between the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance meant six years of labor peace was at hand. However, the ILA-USM coastwide agreement was contingent on completion of supplemental local contracts covering port-specific issues, and on ratification by both sides.
Local bargaining has been concluded in most ports, but the ILA and the New York Shipping Association, a USMX member, remain far apart on the contract for New York-New Jersey.
The NYSA is seeking changes to what it describes as “archaic” work rules and excess staffing, including pay for workers who aren’t on the job. The ILA is resisting the changes in the long-established practices.
When the ILA and employers tentatively agreed on the coastwide master contract last month, they set a “soft” deadline of March 1 for wrapping up work on local contracts. That’s been replaced by a hard deadline of this Friday, March 8.
The ILA and NYSA opened a scheduled three days of negotiations today in a final effort to reach agreement before the ILA’s 200-member wage scale committee gathers March 12-14 in Tampa. Wage scale delegates will decide whether to ratify the coastwide contract and submit it to a rank-and-file vote.
Several ILA officials say that if there’s a New York-New Jersey deal in place, the coastwide agreement will be easily ratified. But they warn that without a New York-New Jersey agreement, the contract is likely to be voted down.
Management officials have tentatively planned to be in Tampa for the wage scale meetings, but those plans may be canceled if this week’s negotiations don’t yield an agreement.
The ILA and employers haven’t commented publicly on the New York-New Jersey contract talks, but several sources on both sides indicate there’s been little progress toward agreement on the core issues of staffing and work rules.
The New York-New Jersey issues have been dominant since the ILA and employers opened coastwide negotiations nearly a year ago, although they temporarily eclipsed last fall by a dispute over container royalties in the coastwide contract.
ILA-employer negotiations are conducted at two levels. The coastwide master contract covers wages, medical benefits, automation, technology, chassis repair, and carrier-paid container royalties that support annual cash payouts to dockworkers. Work rules, staffing, pensions and other port-specific issues are in supplemental local contracts.
The ILA contract was scheduled to expire last Sept. 30 but has been extended twice — first to Dec. 29, then to Feb. 6 — to avert threatened strikes. Cargo interests were forced to divert shipments or stockpile inventories before both of those deadlines.
After nearly a year of on-and-off bargaining punctuated by acrimonious exchanges, neither the ILA nor employers appear interested in a third contract extension.
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is overseeing the New York-New Jersey negotiations, which are being held in Newark, N.J. The FMCS became involved in the coastwide negotiations last September.