Reject pact, say ILA dissidents

Reject pact, say ILA dissidents

Dissidents within the International Longshoremen's Association are urging union members to reject a proposed six-year master contract in a referendum slated for early next month.

Opponents of the pact say they are unhappy with provisions that change benefits and continue a two-tier wage scale.

"We oppose this contract because we want an end to a permanent two-tier wage and benefit system," said Royce Adams, vice president of Local 1291 in Philadelphia. Leonard Riley, a member of Local 1422 in Charleston, also complained about the proposed contract's provisions on benefits and wages and said there should be a "wage bridge" that allows entry-level workers to graduate to full pay after a specified period. Riley also said the union's national health-care plan "has proven not to be a well-thought-out concept."

Riley's brother, Kenneth, is leader of the Longshore Workers Coalition, an intra-union group that has been calling for more democracy within the ILA. Leonard Riley said that although several leaders in the opposition campaign are coalition members, the campaign is not a coalition initiative and that his brother is not taking a public role in the campaign. Kenneth Riley was not immediately available.

The dissident group said its members include ILA members in the ports of New York and New Jersey; Charleston; Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Savannah, Jacksonville and Miami.

The ILA's wage-scale committee, comprising more than 200 delegates from Atlantic and Gulf ports, approved the master contract March 23 after negotiations with the United States Maritime Alliance, the coastwide umbrella group for waterfront employers. The master contract covers container and roll-on, roll-off cargo. Breakbulk and bulk work and port-specific issues, such as pensions, are covered by supplemental local contracts.

Negotiations for the local agreements are continuing. ILA President John Bowers has called for the local talks to be completed by June 3, in time for the master and local agreements to be voted on by members from Maine to Texas June 7. The ILA said the master contract will be decided by coastwide majority vote, with the local agreements voted on separately but at the same time.

The master contract retains a lower wage established in 1996 but would gradually narrow the gap between entry-level and the regular base rate, currently $27 an hour. Entry-level pay would increase to $16 from the current $15. Workers hired at entry-level rates in previous years would receive four increases totaling $7 over the contract's life, while workers earning more than $21 would receive four increases totaling $4.

To eliminate a cumulative deficit in the ILA's medical benefit plan that is projected to reach $730 million by 2010, management would increase contributions and the union would accept changes including co-payments, a three-tiered benefit plan with eligibility for each level based on hours worked, and changes in early retirees' eligibility for the top-level plan.

Leonard Riley criticized the changes, particularly the one revising benefits for early retirees. "I don't believe we came up with the best package," Riley said. He predicted his Charleston local would reject the contract.

ILA spokesman James A. McNamara said the tiered benefit plan was an effort to spread limited money among the largest possible number of workers. He also said Riley was a wage-scale delegate and could have challenged the contract provisions when the wage-scale committee was discussing them, but did not do so. McNamara also said the wage-scale delegates' vote for the master contract was unanimous. "I can't remember that ever happening before," he said.

McNamara said the dissidents' opposition "is perplexing and baffling, but this contract is not going to be voted down. It's one of the greatest contracts in the history of our industry."