ILA, USMX make early moves toward contract talks

ILA, USMX make early moves toward contract talks

Dockworkers and employers at US East Coast and Gulf Coast ports are preparing to follow their West Coast counterparts by making initial moves toward negotiations on a contract to replace the Maine-to-Texas labor agreement that expires next year.

The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) president Harold Daggett told members in a brief letter Monday that the US Maritime Alliance (USMX) had presented the ILA with a letter outlining a proposal for a contract extension.

Daggett’s letter offered no details, but said the union’s international office “is reviewing and evaluating the contents of the document and has contacted USMX to clarify some of the items in the document.”

The status of plans for the forthcoming talks is understood to be at a very early stage, with no negotiations scheduled and no formal proposals on the table.

Daggett told members that a meeting of the union’s wage scale committee, representing local port officials, would be convened “in the near future.” Earlier this year, Daggett directed ILA locals to elect wage scale delegates in preparation for bargaining.

The ILA and USMX face increased pressure to reach a contract agreement following a recent extension to July 2022 of the West Coast contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

The ILWU-PMA deal was greeted with relief by supply chain managers who endured several months of labor slowdowns during bitter West Coast contract negotiations in 2014 to 2015. East and Gulf coast ports gained market share during the West Coast gridlock and are anxious to get a new labor contract in place well before the current ILA-USMX agreement expires on Sept. 30, 2018.

The West Coast’s share of Asian imports fell to 65.7 percent in the first half of this year from 67.2 percent in the first half of 2016, and has declined from was 78.4 percent in 2005, according to PIERS, a sister product of within IHS Markit.

Although the ILA has not had a coastwide strike since 1977, the union came to the brink of one in 2012 to 2013, when negotiations dragged on for nearly a year before a deal was worked out with help from federal mediators.

ILA and USMX officials have been discussing an extension or early agreement on a new contract for more than two years. At one time, the parties kicked around the idea of an extension to 2025, but that idea lost momentum amid concerns about healthcare costs and other issues.

In recent months, the impending ILA-USMX negotiations have taken a back seat while the ILWU and PMA worked out their contract. Union officials, however, have expressed confidence that an extension or new agreement will be in place before the current East and Gulf coast contract expires.

Last February, the ILA and USMX held informal meetings that served mainly to allow local officials to air their ideas and opinions for the next contract.

Some union officials used the forum to propose a one-day work stoppage and Washington march to protest “government interference” by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which has clashed with the ILA over hiring and other practices, and by South Atlantic states that employ non-union state employees at state-owned ports. The work stoppage was called off after USMX warned it would violate the contract’s no-strike clause.

Daggett has said he expects automation to be a top issue in the next round of negotiations. Other issues include jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair, and over terminal work at state-owned South Atlantic ports. Some ports’ underfunded pensions, an issue covered by local contracts that supplement the coastwide agreement, also will be an issue.

The master contract sets wages for container and roll-on, roll-off cargo handling, defines the scope of work, and includes medical benefits, carrier-paid container royalties, and other coastwide issues. Local contracts cover pensions, work rules, and other port-specific issues. Wages for breakbulk and bulk cargo handling are also are negotiated locally.

Traditionally, the master contract has been negotiated before completion of local negotiations. Following a Baltimore arbitrator’s 2013 ruling that local disputes cannot nullify the master contract’s no-strike clause, Daggett directed union officials to try to settle local contracts first.

Contact Joseph Bonney at and follow him on Twitter: @JosephBonney.