Friday, June 1, 2012
War of words in ILA-USMX contract talks
Contract talks between waterfront employers and labor that operate from Maine to Texas appear to have hit some bumps in the road on the way towards a September 30 deadline as both sides are claiming the other won't budge on issues involving jurisdiction, technology and guaranteed employment.
In the past week, the president of the International Longshore Union, Harold Daggett, and the chief executive of the United States Maritime Alliance, James Capo, posted letters on their respective websites that accused each other of preventing actual negotiations to take place during the run-up period to a master contract that is set to expire in four months.
Daggett wrote in his letter to the ILA rank and file that "the two sides were far apart in their demands and proposals" over terminal automation, chassis pools and work jurisdiction for the union after meetings ended in Tampa, Florida back in March with the USMX.
"I was hopeful that these conversations would expand to subsequent meetings and full-blown negotiations. Unfortunately that has not been the case," he wrote.
In a pointed response to the ILA letter, the USMX's James Capo wrote a letter to his membership that claims: "Daggett has put forth several demands, or 'hurdles,' as he calls them, but has adamantly refused to negotiate or even discuss these or any other issues at the bargaining table unless management first agrees to his demands."
On the automated technology issue, both sides appear to be at odds over the potential impact to waterfront jobs.
Daggett said it has been his goal to "make sure that we all understood that as automation and new technology increased, my highest priority was to make sure that our jobs were preserved under any new Master Contract."
Capo's letter fired back that what Daggett "fails to recognize is that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that both sides negotiate over the impact new technology might have on the work force."
Capo wrote that reassignment, retraining and severance "would all be subject to negotiation."
Another point of contention that Capo, in particular, pointed to was over chassis pools and whether there should be implicit language in the next contract stipulating ILA jurisdiction as that sector has been shifting away from shipping lines to third party ownership.
Capo said having labor chassis jurisdiction "bound by the Master Contract" would be "impossible to achieve because USMX cannot legally force the pool operators to become members of the Alliance.
Capo's letter did state that chassis pool operators on the East Coast "have already agreed to continue to use ILA members to maintain and repair chassis and honor ILA jurisdiction where it is currently in place."
Capo also claimed that the ILA president wants all imported containers weighed at the pier before being released.
"This would create more unneeded work, add unnecessary expense and increase congestion at the ports," wrote Capo.
As negotiations between the sides have seemingly hit an impasse, Daggett told his members "that they should prepare themselves for any action we may have to take if USMX's position does not change."
At least one major container-shipping line that serves the U.S. East Coast claims it has been making alternate plans in the event of what would reportedly be the first ILA work stoppage in 35 years.
"We have in our business contingency plan created some very good and thoughtful mechanisms that we will go forward with, with our clients [in the event of work stoppage]," Gene Seroka, president of APL Americas told attendees at Cargo Business News' Heartland Shippers Conference in mid-April in Des Moines, Iowa.
Seroka said he and others at APL jumpstarted discussions back in September of last year in terms of "looking for counter-measures and contingency planning to avoid the East Coast in the event there was as work stoppage."
Seroka also said that if there were a work stoppage, it wouldn't likely occur until the end of September.
"Cargo must be re-routed, ordered, and finalized, much earlier than that. So our clients now in their contract negotiations, especially those in the eastbound side of our business, or imports to the United States, have already started to build in language to those agreements in order to assure that there is service provision over the West Coast," Seroka said.
APL owns and operates three marine terminals on the U.S. West Coast.
However, Harold Daggett's counterpart on the West Coast, Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, expressed his union's support of the ILA in a statement released in early May.
"No one should listen to the recent hum of industry executives suggesting they know what dockworkers on the West Coast will or won't do in support of our East Coast brothers and sisters. The fact is that we have their back in the fight to protect work and jurisdiction; their fight is our fight," he said.
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