Strike Looms On The Docks
August 23, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Talks between the International Longshoreman’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance were progressing and both sides seemed to be on the verge of reaching a new labor contract until the association, on Wednesday, August 22, imposed demands that would strip away 30 years’ worth of gains made by the ILA.
The negotiations cover about 15,000 longshoremen who work in ports from Maine to Texas, such as the Port of New York and New Jersey, Charleston, Baltimore, Miami and Houston. About 3,500 ILA members work at the Port of NY & NJ.
According to James McNamara, an ILA spokesman, there were a series of negotiating rounds in March, June and July that resulted in a breakthrough agreement on automation and chassis work, which was considered two big hurdles that led the union to believe it was well on its way to reaching a new contract before the current one expires on September 30.
But then the alliance, which consists of container carriers, direct employers and port associations serving the East and Gulf Coasts of the U.S., offered take-it-or-leave-it demands.
“A meeting of 20 ILA delegates and 20 USMX representatives were going to meet this week to reach some sort of agreement in principle on the rest of the contract, which we would then present to the whole ILA body to get it ratified before the September 30 deadline. But then management on Wednesday morning took a very hard stand and said they wouldn’t entertain anything we were asking for until we agreed to concessions,” said McNamara.
McNamara noted that with each new contract negotiations the alliance seeks for greater productivity at lower labor costs, and technology changes such as greater reliance on robotic equipment, computers and scanners have replaced a lot of the work that used to be done manually.
“We negotiated at least in principle [before the breakdown in talks] for the first time in the history of negotiations job protection provisions that would preserve jobs despite the introduction of automation.”
There’s six weeks before the contract expires and the union has asked USMX for its final proposal that the union will present to all delegates that represent the different geographic areas. But it’s unlikely the delegates will accept it.
“If the same set of conditions remain and things don’t change dramatically, then we will be without a new contract and on strike by October 1,” noted McNamara.
The last time the union struck was back in 1977. When asked if the union is ready and prepared to go out on strike should there be no agreement, McNamara said, “If we don’t have a contract, it’s the only thing we can do.”
Also significant is that the longshoremen of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that represents workers at West Coast ports have pledged to support the ILA by not handling freight and cargo should the USMX divert shipments to the West Coast in lieu of an ILA strike.