The New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association are in the early stages of implementing a new contract that targets high costs and low productivity at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
NYSA and ILA officials have begun work on several elements of their local contract, which supplements a six-year coastwide master contract between the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance.
Initial work includes finalizing the list of workers granted enhanced benefits for early retirements, planning for the hiring and training of new workers, and launching union-management committees devoted to improving productivity.
“There are a lot of moving pieces. One piece doesn’t have to be finished before we start with the others,” said Joseph C. Curto, who was succeeded this week by John Nardi as NYSA president.
As NYSA’s executive vice president, Nardi was closely involved in the recent labor negotiations. He said the new contract would combine with other improvements to help the East Coast’s largest port attract more business.
Nardi cited the nearly complete dredging of port channels to 50 feet, the recent approval of raising the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate larger container ships, and extensive terminal, road and rail improvements during the last decade.
“With all these things, and the new contract in place, we’re now in a position to determine our own destiny,” he said in an interview.
NYSA officials expect this month to determine how the new contract’s expected productivity gains will affect cargo assessments that cover ILA benefit costs. The assessments currently are $100 per container for cargo moving within 260 miles of the port.
This year’s flat cargo volumes at the port is complicating the process of determining how much to reduce the assessment, Curto said.
Many of the expected changes from the new labor agreement will develop gradually during the contract’s six-year term. For example, a “relief gang” system to replace existing open-ended shifts won’t take effect until October 2014.
The new contract sets a portwide productivity goal of 30 container lifts per gang per hour, rising by one container per gang-hour annually to 35 by the contract’s sixth year. Current per-gang productivity is in the high 20s, far below other East Coast ports, NYSA officials say.
To achieve the objectives, the new contract calls for union-management productivity committees. Those committees have been organized at the terminal and portwide levels, and will hold their first meetings this month.
A 60-day window in which experienced workers may apply for enhanced early retirement benefits will close June 11. NYSA officials then will determine how many new workers must be hired, and for which jobs.
More than 300 workers — about 10 percent of the port’s ILA work force — are expected to apply for the incentives.
Early retirees won’t leave immediately. They’ll stay on for a year, unless they’re granted earlier severance. The delayed departures will provide time to recruit, hire and train new workers, or workers transferring to other jobs.
Current workers already have been surveyed about training they’d like to receive. Results of that survey will be matched with jobs that must be filled.
The contract calls for 51 percent of new hires to come from ranks of military veterans, 25 percent from ILA referrals, and 24 percent from employer referrals.