The International Longshoremen's Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) traded barbs on Tuesday, but the parties are planning to meet again in early December to resume contract negotiations.
James A. Capo, the chairman and chief executive officer of USMX, issued a statement
in which he said his organization "has given due consideration to ILA demands and shown its willingness to compromise on issues such as automation and chassis repair. It is disappointing that ILA negotiators have refused to give the same consideration to issues that concern USMX and the employers it represents."
USMX represents steamship lines, terminals, and port associations in contract talks. The current contract expired Sept. 30, but the ILA and USMX agreed to a 90-day extension and have been continuing negotiations with the aid of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Capo complained about a statement issued last Friday by ILA president Harold Daggett, saying "ILA leaders view bargaining as a one-way street that leads only in their direction" and was "contrary to the cooperation that has characterized bargaining and that for more than three decades."
employers "want to grab more money away from the ILA and its members by placing a cap on container royalty" and vowed to protect wage guarantees, overtime provisions, and the size of lashing gangs.
Capo said of the ILA that "it’s incredible that they continue to defend antiquated work rules, manning and other practices that have made many of the East and Gulf coast ports prohibitively expensive, harming our ability to compete and threatening the viability of port operations.
“The current economic reality demands that we improve efficiency and productivity at the ports. It also requires that we begin to control container royalty payments that have risen dramatically since they were first established in 1960, totaling $211 million in 2011 or an average of $10 per man hour," he said. "Employers are not seeking to eliminate these bonuses, only to cap them and use the extra money to help pay for benefits for ILA workers."
On Tuesday Daggett fired back
, saying "USMX has engaged in misleading rhetoric and scare tactics during the time they should have been negotiating with the ILA. They put more effort into their media statements than in preparing contract documents. It's not surprising since they invest in building new ships at nearly $200 million each, but don't put a dime on the table in negotiations to compensate ILA members who helped them accumulate their riches."
He complained about USMX labeling the container royalty as a "bonus," saying instead it was "a wage supplement that was negotiated in good faith by the ILA and its employers for the sacrifices made by ILA members."
Daggett said the "USMX has continually played one port against the other but that strategy will not succeed."
Despite the war of words, the two sides are planning to meet on Dec. 10 for further negotiations.
The ILA said it was calling for full master contract wage scale meetings for Dec. 10-12. Those meetings would bring about 200 ILA representatives together for negotiations with the employers. The committee is the group which would have to approve a new contract.
The ILA said talks would continue beyond Dec. 12, if a contract can be reached. Recent talks have been held with smaller groups, sometimes with about 20 representatives, and others with only a handful from each side.
One source familiar with the negotiations said Daggett may be calling his wage scale delegates together for unity purposes and to let them know how negotiations are going and what options the union might pursue. He cautioned against trying to read anything negative or positive into the meeting.
He said talks have been moving slowly, with the two sides having trouble getting past "the most basic of issues." For example, he said the ILA's medical plan, MILA, has a large excess in its reserve. Management would like to reduce those contributions and perhaps use the funds for other purposes.
Peter Gatti, executive vice president of the National Industrial Transportation League, the nation's largest shipper organization, said the latest statements are "certainly not optimistic."
While a labor stoppage in early September would have come during the peak season for many retailers, a work stoppage at the end of this year if a contract can not be reached could also be harmful to many businesses that depend, for example, on imports of components to keep assembly lines going, or to export products.
"Any type of closure puts into question alternative planning that people need to be looking at," Gatti said. In addition, he noted that there was a great deal of concern by shippers about announcements by carriers this fall that they planned to impose congestion surcharges
in the event of port closures. - Chris Dupin