The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) covering the ports of Philadelphia, Wilmington, and South Jersey ratified a contract with Delaware River employers Thursday. That paves the way for six years of stability after resolving disputes over manpower issues related to the demands of growing vessel and volume sizes.
The vote by five ILA locals to endorse the six-year contract by about two-to-one concluded one of the most contentious local ILA negotiations on the East and Gulf coasts. It comes three-and-a-half months after ILA members on both coasts resoundingly ratified a six-year master agreement to replace the one that expired Sept. 30.
The Philadelphia locals were among the last of the 58 East and Gulf Coast locals to vote on a local contract, perhaps the last. The union’s leadership had hoped that all local agreements would be reached before the coastwide ratification vote took place on Sept. 6, but longshoremen in the Port of Baltimore did not reach an agreement with employers until October. ILA officials said a local contract for the Port of Charleston may still be unsettled, but union officials there could not be reached for comment.
The ILA-United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) master contract covers wages, medical benefits, carrier-paid container royalties, and other coastwide issues, leaving union locales to strike agreements on supplementary local and regional contracts, which cover work rules, pensions, and other port-specific issues.
Issues that threatened to derail the Philadelphia talks, but were eventually resolved, included staffing levels for lashers as ships get bigger and the number of longshoremen needed to monitor refrigerated box temperatures as the volume of boxes handled rises and considering the task is done remotely on video-screens rather than by someone checking each box. In both cases, the contract contains a compromise on staffing levels in between the two sides' demands.
“I think we got six years of stability,” said Jim Paylor, president of Local 1566, who led the union negotiating team. He called it a “very good contract” that would give “six years of peace and harmony” unless jurisdictional issues arose.
As recently as eight days ago, the ILA was ready to go on strike after a last-minute disagreement, on Dec. 13 as members began to vote, over language about pensions in the contract, Paylor said. The union abandoned the vote, and talks resumed after mediation, eventually reaching an agreement, he said.
Agreement also covers South Jersey, Wilmington
Along with the Port of Philadelphia, the agreement will cover the Port of Wilmington, Delaware, whose operator, Gulftainer, took control of the port earlier this year and has agreed to sign on to the master contract, Paylor said.
Pat Dolan, executive director of the Ports of Delaware River Marine Trade Association (PMTA), which represents port employers in Philadelphia, South Jersey, and Wilmington, released a statement calling it a “landmark agreement that benefits all involved, especially workers and their families, and the greater Philadelphia economy of which the ports are a powerful engine.”
The agreement “includes significant improvements in economic and non-economic provisions, including in the areas of wages, pension, and annuity,” for the union, he said.
The Philadelphia talks got turbulent in May when the union locales sought a “carve out” from restrictions that prevented ILA members from striking. The union wanted to use industrial action to “recapture” work at three small terminals served by non-ILA unions.
That issue receded as others surfaced, most notably the two manpower issues. They included a union demand for two extra workers on lasher teams on ships that are more than 18 containers wide. The union also wanted a commitment in the contract to provide one worker per 50 refrigerated boxes handled on the dock, to reflect the growing volume of reefers going through the port. And the union also sought extra pay for checkers that move up to become clerks, which requires a measure of computer training.
The final agreement allowed for an additional longshoreman to be assigned for each 150 reefer boxes above the first 150 boxes, compared with one worker for each additional 300 boxes that employers sought, Paylor said. The contract also allowed for an increase in the number of lashers as cargo volume increased, he said. Issues related to the checkers will be negotiated when employers seek to add automation or computerization in those areas, he said.