Thursday, August 23, 2012


End of summer waterfront employer-union tension on both coasts

The summer of 2012 is winding down, but Peak Season shipping is ongoing, while tension between shipping industry management and its longshore unions in the U.S. is palpable.

Starting in the eastern part of the U.S., contract negotiations between employers represented by the United States Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen's Association apparently broke off on a sour note after three days of bargaining in Delray Beach, Florida.

The shipping employers' agreement with longshoremen that work the industrial waterfront from Maine to Texas expires September 30, when the container-shipping industry in particular, is typically in high gear with imported freight for the holidays.

"USMX and its member companies are disappointed with the uncompromising stand the ILA leadership is taking in the negotiations," said James Capo, chairman and chief executive of the USMX in a statement.

"The ILA's posture is contrary to the history of cooperation that has characterized these negotiations in the past and, since 1977, has led to agreements without any disruption to the supply chain and port operations on the East and Gulf coasts," Capo said.

"The ILA is willing to negotiate a contract in good faith," said Thomas Little, ILA vice president for the port of Hampton Roads to the Virginian Pilot. "It's my opinion that the USMX is not negotiating in good faith," he said.

The ILA and USMX re-engaged with their on-again, off-again negotiations in Florida in late July as both sides at that time claimed to their respective members that there had been "significant discussions" on "critical items of importance" and that "substantial progress" had been made over what each have referenced publically as the central issues that include terminal automation, chassis pools, wages, and benefits.

In the USMX's latest statement regarding the broken-off negotiations, the employer group referred to ILA workers being "among the most highly compensated workers in the country, on average receiving $124,138 a year in wages and benefits, which puts them ahead of all but 2 percent of all U.S. workers."

"[ILA members] earn an average hourly wage of $50, more than double the $23.19 average for all U.S. union workers. They also pay no premiums and minimal co-pays and deductibles for a healthcare plan that is better than most U.S. employers provide their workers," the USMX statement said.

"At the Port of New York and New Jersey, 34 ILA members make over $368,000 a year in wages and benefits; one of every three makes over $208,000 a year - not including annual bonuses based on the weight of container cargo. These 'container royalties' totaled $232 million in 2011 – or an average of $15,500 for ILA workers on the East and Gulf coasts," the employer group said.

Meanwhile, shippers and their service providers have reportedly been making contingency plans in the event of a possible strike by the ILA.

"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 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."

APL owns and operates three marine terminals on the U.S. West Coast.

While the East and Gulf coast shipping industry girds for potential issues stemming from the employer-labor strife, the ILA's West Coast counterpart, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was dealt a blow by the National Labor Relations Board last week in Portland, Ore., and now faces another charge filed by its terminal operator at the port there.

The NLRB recently ruled in favor of electricians over longshoremen regarding two hotly disputed waterfront jobs involved in plugging, unplugging and monitoring refrigerated shipping containers at the Port of Portland's container terminal that is operated by Manila-based ICTSI.

"There was clearly not any doubt in our mind this was always the work of the IBEW," said Clif Davis, Local 48 business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 48 to the Oregonian of the decision.

The ILWU's contention has been that not using its labor force for the disputed positions goes against the collective bargaining agreement it has with its employer group, the Pacific Maritime Association.

However, the three-member NLRB panel ruled the Port of Portland has jurisdiction over the reefer container work that dates back to a 1984 agreement with the union, and that the electricians have been performing the reefer box work since 1974.

The ILWU subsequently filed suit against the Port of Portland, Ore. and its executive director Bill Wyatt in federal court alleging that the port illegally gave public subsidy monies to ICTSI Oregon and several ocean carriers to compensate them for money lost due to delays caused by the union struggle.

The next day, ICTSI reportedly filed an unfair-labor practice charge with the NLRB that accused the union of coercion through pressuring the terminal operator and shipping lines that call there to assign the two disputed labor positions to the ILWU.

"We feel this is another attempt to coerce ICTSI to assign work that it has no right to control," said Michael Garone, a lawyer for ICTSI, as reported by the Oregonian.

"There are so many more important things to be concerned about, like bringing jobs to our region and getting our economy going again," Garone said.

The Oregonian reported that Ronald Hooks, Seattle regional director for the NLRB, said that he would launch an investigation into ICTSI's charges that could be added to another trial that is happening against the ILWU that claims there were intentional work slowdowns during the summer-long dispute.

A possible bright spot in shipping management-waterfront labor relations is in Southern California, where the Local unit of the ILWU that covers 600 clerical workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. were reportedly back at the negotiating table on Wednesday with the employer group that represents the 14 marine terminal operators there, after a two-week hiatus.

The clerical workers previously elected to bargain with each Harbor Employer Association member company one at a time on the heels of a coast arbitrator's ruling that ILWU members could honor an OCU picket line. The HEA subsequently offered up four options for a new contract agreement.

The HEA has said jobs and technology have been the sticking points with the L.A. -Long Beach OCU. The clerical workers group had wanted new hires, and for vendors to call, fax or email rather than use employers' websites, according to the HEA. The terminal operators have also contended OCU workers prefer to manually enter data instead of utilizing automated data transfers.


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