TAMPA, Fla. — The International Longshoremen's Association and United States Maritime Alliance concluded nearly a year of rocky, on-and-off negotiations by agreeing on a six-year contract for East and Gulf Coast dockworkers.
Amid handshakes and hugs, the deal was announced to the union's 200-member wage scale committee, which recommended ratification by the 14,500 rank-and-file members covered by the coastwide agreement. Union delegates had approved the deal in principle Tuesday.
USMX added its approval after the union and the New York Shipping Association worked out remaining details on a supplemental local contract covering 3,250 workers at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The NYSA will present the contract Thursday to the ILA's New York-New Jersey delegates. NYSA President Joseph Curto confirmed that an agreement had been reached but declined to release details until after Thursday's meeting.
George H, Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, called the agreement a "monumental result" that "paves the way for six years of stable labor-management relations."
He said the ILA and USMX "successfully concluded lengthy, complex and understandably sometimes contentious negotiations concerning a multitude of economic and job-related issues. Mutual respect, good old-fashioned 'roll up your sleeves' hard work and applying innovative problem-solving skills ultimately prevailed."
The FMCS entered the negotiations last September and brokered a 90-day extension that averted a threatened Sept. 30 strike, which would have been the ILA's first coastwide walkout in 35 years.
Following a shorter extension in December, the ILA and USMX tentatively agreed on the master contract Feb. 1. The tentative agreement was contingent on settlement of supplemental local contracts and on ratification by both sides.
"We're obviously pleased we were able to reach an agreement with the ILA and now look forward to the final ratification votes and completion of local bargaining," USMX Chairman and CEO James A. Capo said. "Given the industry's essential role in the U.S. economy, it's vitally important that we've resolved our differences and have come to an agreement, preventing any disruption of port operations."
ILA President Harold Daggett said union delegates "have achieved a great contract for the rank-and-file members we represent. Our union worked hard for over a year to bring home a landmark agreement that I am sure our members will ratify."
During recent months, officials from both sides had described the negotiations as a roller-coaster ride. At one point last year, Capo complained that ILA leadership appeared to view the negotiations as "a one-way street leading only in their direction."
The mediators helped get the talks back on track. As many as four FMCS officials sat in on the bargaining, meeting with the union and employers simultaneously and with committees from each side.
Local contract issues were among the most difficult in the negotiations, which began last March. In New York-New Jersey, the NYSA sought to change decades-old work rules and staffing practices that allow many workers to be paid round-the-clock.
For several weeks in November and December, local issues in New York-New Jersey and other ports were eclipsed by a standoff on the future of carriers' per-ton container royalty payments, which are used primarily to support annual cash payouts to dockworkers.
Under a compromise reached last month, the ILA and USMX agreed to fix carriers' royalty payments at their 2011 level of $211 million for each of the next six years, plus up to $14 million for administrative expenses, and for the ILA and carriers to divide any royalties in excess of $225 million.
The master contract includes $1-an-hour wage increases in 2014, 2016 and 2017, and shortens from nine to six years the time needed for new hires to advance to top-scale pay, currently $32 an hour for straight time. The agreement also includes provisions to protect workers displaced by introduction of new technology, and to promote continued ILA jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair at marine terminals and port areas. USMX did not seek changes in the ILA's coastwide medical benefits program.
As ILA delegates celebrated around him, Daggett praised Capo and the FMCS. "I'm so happy that things worked out," the ILA president said, "not only for our union and our families, but for the country. Now we that we've accomplished this, we can move forward."
Asked if he had harbored doubts that a strike-free contract was possible, he replied, "Sure I had doubts, but it worked out. The results were positive."