Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and New York Shippers’ Association (NYSA) over a local contract for New York and New Jersey dockworkers abruptly broke down Wednesday when ILA representatives walked out of the meeting at a Ramada Inn in Newark, N.J.
ILA spokesman Jim McNamara said the ILA left the meeting after a presentation by Joe Curto of the NYSA included "the same items that had been rejected for the last six months of talks we have had with New York Shipping Association - drastic changes to all the areas that we have been talking about - staffing, gang sizes."
He said the changes were "just totally unacceptable to the ILA. Harold Daggett (the president of the ILA) said it was if they wanted us to become third world factory workers. There was absolutely no way that we could continue any sort of meaningful negotiations yesterday."
(The U.S. Maritime Alliance, which negotiates the master contract for longshoremen in all ports says ILA members on the East and Gulf Coasts earn an average of $124,138
annually in wages and benefits.)
“It’s unfortunate that the ILA refuses to bargain issues that are
important to the future success of the Port of New York and New Jersey,
namely productivity, excessive manning and archaic work practices,”
said Joseph Curto, the president of the NYSA in a statement.
“Management came to this meeting ready to bargain. We were – and are –
prepared to discuss ideas suggested by the ILA. But by walking out of
today’s session, the ILA leadership demonstrated its unwillingness to
engage in a serious conversation about the changes necessary to ensure
the viability of the Port of New York and New Jersey," he said.
“Although today’s session ended abruptly, NYSA believes there is still
time to reach an agreement on a local contract before the current
contract extension expires on Feb. 6. We remain committed to reaching an
agreement and are hopeful that we can get back to the bargaining
table,” Curto added.
McNamara said a meeting next week on master contract issues for 14 container ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast "is still on" and local negotiations are continuing in other ports.
He said those talks will involve the so-called "20-man committees" from each side, which include representatives from each port range in the country. A total of about 60 people from the ILA and USMX will meet at the Seaview Hotel in Galloway, N.J., to try and hammer out a pact.
McNamara noted that members of the NYSA participate in the USMX-ILA negotiations, so there's a chance to discuss New York issues next week as well.
The breakdown in talks on Wednesday follows a late December announcement when the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said the ILA and USMX had made an agreement in principle on container royalties and agreed to a contract extension through Feb. 6. Previously, the two sides had agreed to a contract extension when it was due to expire on Sept. 30.
Curto said he was hesitant to provide details on what changes NYSA is seeking, saying that it wants to discuss them with the union and "we are certainly open to bargaining."
"We've been consistent with our message from the very beginning. Things that don't make sense, can't be rationalized, can't be explained any longer are the kind of things that need to be changed," he said.
"Starting back over a year ago, we put forth some bargaining concepts to the union to include all these different things we want to get to talking about in terms of a change," Curto explained. "Nothing we talked about yesterday they hadn't seen before many times and nothing we talked about yesterday should have been a surprise. Now is the time to get into the nitty gritty and begin the process of bargaining these things."
He said many of the issues NYSA wants to discuss have been talked about with various locals in the port.
"It's turning into a soap opera the whole thing," said one liner company executive, in an interview. "It's very unfortunate."
Meanwhile, a coalition of 120 business groups sent a letter today to ILA's Daggett and James Capo, chairman and CEO of USMX, urging them "to continue their focused efforts to reach a new long-term contract in advance of the February 6 expiration.
"Failure to reach an agreement will have serious economy-wide impacts. Just the threat of a port shutdown creates a level of uncertainty in today’s fragile economic climate threatening growth and jobs," the coalition wrote. "Many businesses have been forced to implement costly contingency plans several times when potential shutdowns loomed. The customers, American workers and logistical networks relying on the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports cannot afford this continued uncertainty."
Some of the groups that signed the letter included the National Retail Federation, American Apparel & Footwear Association, American Meat Institute, International Wood Products Association, National Association of Manufacturers, Waterfront Coalition, and U.S Chamber of Commerce. - Chris Dupin