ILA, Ports Reach Agreement

ILA, Ports Reach Agreement

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

Negotiators for the International Longshoremen''s Association and waterfront management have agreed to a six-year master contract, six months before the Sept. 30 expiration of the current agreement. That''s good news for shippers.

James Capo, chief executive of the United States Maritime Alliance, which represents waterfront management in master-contract negotiations, said the early settlement will prevent nervous shippers from diverting cargo. "It protects our competitive position," Capo said.

The contract, subject to member ratification, covers union workers performing container and roll-on, roll-off cargo handling at Atlantic and Gulf ports. Local agreements covering breakbulk, bulk cargo and port-specific conditions will be negotiated separately. ILA President John Bowers said members will vote simultaneously on local and master contracts by June 1.

Bowers said he was confident the master contract will be overwhelmingly approved. "I think this is one of the finest contracts I''ve ever seen," he said.

Technology was among the most difficult issues for negotiators to resolve, particularly where clerks and maintenance and repair workers were concerned. The new contract attempts to balance preservation of union jobs against the need to introduce labor-saving technology to speed cargo handling.

The new agreement requires employers to provide 180 days'' notice of their desire to introduce technology. The union retains its current right to discuss the technology and to file grievances over its impact. Those disputes will be settled by a three-member arbitration panel. Management may not introduce the technology until the panel has ruled.

Amid projections that the fund that pays for ILA medical benefits could have a $730 million cumulative shortfall by 2010, management agreed to increase its payments to the program and the union accepted changes that include multiple levels of benefits and increased co-payments. ILA officials said the medical program is still among the best in the country.

The contract also increases employer contributions to local union benefit programs, and narrows the pay gap between veteran ILA members earning the base wage of $27 an hour and newer workers who receive lower wages under a two-tiered pay system established in 1996.

The new contract would increase starting pay for new workers to $16 an hour from $15. Workers earning more than $21 an hour would receive increases of $1 per hour in the contract''s first, third, fifth and sixth years. Workers earning $21 or less would receive hourly increases of $2 in the first year, $2 in the third, $1.50 in the fifth and $1.50 in the sixth.