Will the ILA truce hold?

The truce between the top two officers of the International Longshoremen's Association will be tested this week in Orlando, where the ILA's 200-member wage scale committee is expected to receive waterfront management's proposal for a contract extension for dockworkers in Atlantic and Gulf ports.

ILA President Richard Hughes and Harold Daggett, the union's executive vice president, pledged last week to end two weeks of public bickering over Hughes' handling of contract talks, and to work together on a contract.

That, however, doesn't mean everything will be sunshine and smiles in Orlando. The Longshore Workers Coalition, which has members on the wage scale committee, still wants to delay negotiations until closer to the current contract's expiration on Sept. 30, 2010. Daggett also had urged that negotiations be delayed to give the economy a chance to improve and to give the union time to arm itself with more data.

Hughes said last week that management's proposal is expected to be presented Tuesday. It will be the first to be presented to union delegates since talks recessed last February following an initial exchange of proposals.

Any proposed contract extension that the wage scale committee approves would be submitted for a rank-and-file vote. Presumably, any such vote would have to be scheduled this month, because a key part of the proposal involves on a wage increase that's scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, the beginning of the final year of the current six-year contract.

The management proposal that's been discussed would extend the existing contract by two years and defer the Oct. 1 wage increase until the following years. Other changes would provide a "wage bridge" allowing workers in lower pay tiers to graduate to top scale in pay over several years, and would eliminate the cap on container royalty payments that fund dockworkers' bonuses and other benefits.

Technology could be a sticking point. Daggett has insisted that any new contract also include new language restricting management's right to introduce technology. Look for a fight from management over that one.

Bottom line: there should be a plenty for the ILA delegates to talk about, and for users of Atlantic and Gulf ports to keep an eye on. Hughes has told union delegates to prepare to be in Orlando all week if necessary.

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