International Longshoremen’s Association members overwhelmingly ratified a six-year contract for East and Gulf coast dockworkers in a coastwide referendum Tuesday.
The ILA's unofficial tally showed the contract won an 88 percent "yes" vote, with 7,192 in favor, 932 opposed, and 33 voided ballots. The union said all locals approved the contract, the first time in modern ILA history that has happened.
ILA President Harold Daggett and other union officials had campaigned hard for approval of the contract, which negotiators agreed on last month after a year of often-strained bargaining.
“On behalf of ILA members and officers at all ports, we’re thrilled this master contract was ratified by an overwhelming margin,” Daggett said. “We all worked very hard, achieved landmark improvements and protected our members and our union for many years.”
An unofficial tally showed that ILA members in the Port of New York and New Jersey approved the coastwide master contract by more than 4-to-1 and a supplemental local agreement by more than 3-to-1.
Other ports also reported lopsided majorities for ratification. Locals in the ILA’s South Atlantic and Gulf district voted nearly 95 percent in favor of the coastwide pact. The contract was approved by healthy margins at every port from Boston to Houston.
Assuming ratification by management’s United States Maritime Alliance next Tuesday, the union vote closes a year of stormy, on-and-off bargaining highlighted by threats of the ILA’s first coastwide strike since 1977.
ILA and USMX negotiators tentatively agreed on the coastwide contract March 13 following a crucial deal on a supplemental agreement that revised decades-old work rules and pay practices at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
“We’re obviously pleased that ILA members voted to ratify the master contract,” said David F. Adam, USMX’s new chairman and CEO. “It’s in the best interest of both sides, our customers and the country that the ports continue to operate without disruption and that’s precisely what this agreement will do for the next six years.”
Negotiations on the coastwide contract were overshadowed by the contentious bargaining on the local contract for New York-New Jersey.
New York Shipping Association President Joseph Curto said the ratification vote clears the way for changes that will make the port more competitive. “This contract permits us to begin an evolutionary progression of significant change that will improve the practices for working ships, hiring labor and paying key staff persons ... We very much look forward to working with ILA President Harold Daggett and his team in implementing these far-reaching and positive contract provisions,” Curto said in a statement.
ILA members on the East and Gulf coasts voted separately Tuesday on the coastwide contract and on local contracts covering their ports. About 14,500 members were eligible to vote.
Bargaining remains incomplete on local contracts at Hampton Roads, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charleston, Mobile and New Orleans. ILA members in those ports voted Tuesday on the master contract, and will vote on their local contracts after negotiators reach deals in their ports. The ILA said remaining local contracts are expected to be completed within the next few days. It isn't unusual for negotiations on local contracts to continue after a master-contract vote.
The ILA and employers opened negotiations on the coastwide master contract opened in March 2012.
After negotiations broke down last August, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service joined the talks and brokered two short-term extensions that averted threatened strikes in September and December.
The master contract raises the ILA’s $32 hourly pay for containerized and roll-on, roll-off cargo to $35 in three steps, and allows new workers to advance to top scale in six years instead of the previous nine. Employers will pay an additional $1 an hour toward local pensions.
Carriers’ annual per-ton container royalties, which support year-end payouts to ILA members, will be fixed at their 2011 level of $211 million a year, plus up to $14 million for administration. Royalties in excess of $225 million will be divided between the ILA and USMX.
The new master contract tightens ILA jurisdiction over chassis repair in port areas, protects ILA members displaced by new technology, and strengthens enforcement of overall union jurisdiction. ILA medical benefits, which carry no premiums and minimal co-payments, will not change.
The New York-New Jersey local contract sets productivity goals, replaces open-ended staffing schedules with regular work shifts, reduces gang sizes, and paves the way for elimination of no-show and low-show jobs. It also creates early-retirement incentives for older workers and recruiting, hiring and training programs for new hires.
The threat of a port shutdown forced shippers to pad stockpiles, divert cargo and implement other costly contingency measures.
Jonathan Gold, vice president of the National Retail Federation, said the contract approval “is welcomed news to the nation’s retailers, who have been on pins-and-needles for the past year due to the possibility of a supply chain disruption along the 14 East and Gulf Coast container ports.”