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FMCS says progress is being made in ILA-USMX labor negotiations with deadline approaching

By Staff
January 17, 2013

Even though negotiations between the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), an alliance of container carriers, direct employers, and port associations serving United States-based East and Gulf Coasts, and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), the largest union of maritime workers in North America, occurred this week, details of what was discussed remain scant.

“The United States Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Association conducted negotiations during the three day period January 15-17, 2013,” said Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) Director George H. Cohen in a statement.  “In these negotiations the parties made progress and have agreed that the negotiations will continue under our auspices.”

As previously reported, a major sticking point in the negotiations between the ILA and USMX has to do with how the ILA has to negotiate all Master Contract issues with the ILA Wage Scale Committee, which ILA President Harold Daggett said in an August letter to USMX Chairman and CEO James Capo is a democratically-elected committee that Capo has declined to address despite Daggett’s overtures to do so.

And in late December Daggett said that ILA made major gains on the Container Royalty issue that will protect its members as well as agreeing to extend the ILA Master Contract by 30 days, beyond the original December 29 deadline to February 6.
USMX officials said container royalties were established in 1960 as a way to protect members of the International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO (ILA) in New York from job losses created by containerization and its introduction of automated cargo. And in the more than half a century since, container royalty payments to ILA workers, not only in New York but at all the East and Gulf Coast ports, it said, have increased dramatically, reaching over $211 million in 2011 alone.

What’s more, it said the initial reason for implementing container royalties—to protect ILA members from the loss of work—has long been forgotten. Today, thousands of workers who were not even born in 1960 – or in 1968 when container royalties were first distributed – continue to receive payments that in 2011 averaged $15,500 for ILA workers at the 14 East and Gulf Coast ports.
Another issue has to do with technology. USMX’ Capo maintains that the ILA is demanding that management guarantee a job for any worker even if new technologies eliminate a need for that position. Capo also noted that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that both sides negotiate over the impact new technology might have on the work force.

In late October, the United States Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) said that the concerns were back at the negotiating table, following a late September announcement that the ILA and USMX agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement, which was due to expire on September 30 for a ninety-day period through December 29. Following the October meetings, FMCS’S Cohen said that “the parties will have their respective committees review their positions and analyze associated costs. Meanwhile, the parties’ subcommittees will continue to meet in an effort to resolve additional outstanding issues.” 

Both the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) have expressed their concerns to the ILA and USMX over what a potential labor strike could do.

RILA officials said that the ongoing labor negotiations affect 14 East and Gulf Coast ports, which together account for 95 percent of all containerized shipments to the Eastern seaboard.

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