Three days of bargaining on a new contract by the International Longshoremen's Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) wound up on Thursday, with the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen saying the two sides had "made progress" in their effort to negotiate a master contract for container cargo handled at 14 U.S. East and Gulf coast ports.
In the coming week, the two sides are expected to talk about local issues at the ports.
Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, which represents employers in the Port of New York and New Jersey, said "local bargaining has resumed and that talks are ongoing."
While the ILA walked out of talks with the NYSA last week, one source, who asked not to be identified, told American Shipper
Friday that he had been told negotiators were now hopeful that an agreement could be worked out. But he said the situation was still volatile.
Another source predicted talks in New York could be challenging, saying "that's where the dynamite is."
Employers want to modify work practices in New York that have some longshoremen making outsize salaries and others making alleged pay for "no show" or "low show" positions.
According to the 2011-2012 annual report of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor
, which licenses dockworkers in the port of New York and New Jersey, 45 longshoremen make over $300,000 a year, with an additional 79 longshoremen making over $250,000 per year
Last year, the commission published a special report
on hearings it held in 2010 that charged "certain hiring practices, achieved primarily through calculated provisions of collective bargaining agreements, illogical interpretations of other provisions, and claims of 'custom and practice,' have created within the Port no/low-work, no/low-show positions generally characterized by outsized salaries. The privileged few that are given those jobs are overwhelmingly connected to organized crime figures or union leadership."
The union has decried attempts to tie it to organized crime calling them "outdated stereotypes." A RICO lawsuit against the union and many of its leaders was dismissed in 2007. Not only does the Waterfront Commission have broad power to investigate dockworkers and the ability to remove or suspend them them if they "constitute a danger to the peace and safety of the port, or who lack the requisite good character and integrity required for their license," but also the ILA has created its own code of ethics and appointed independent "ethical counsels."
The commission said in its special report "We also recognize that where one person sees an enlarged workforce to be the result of unsupportable featherbedding another sees those 'excess' jobs to be the result of safety concerns and a legitimate insistence on job security. The commission does not take a definitive position on the tension between the two, believing that this is a subject for real collective bargaining between the union and employer associations."
But it raised concerns about whether special treatment of some ILA members might compromise their ability to represent workers.
The commission said "employers pay shop stewards some of the highest salaries on the docks, well beyond what is required by any of the CBAs (collective bargaining agreements), and justify it with the oft-repeated refrain of 'custom and practice.' The commission finds that this creates an incentive for shop stewards to protect the employers’ interests and not those of their fellow union members. This is in direct violation of either the letter or the spirit of the anti-benefit provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. These problems are only exacerbated by shop stewards being generally appointed or 'elected' through sham and undemocratic procedures often for as long as they wish to maintain their position."
If progress is made during local negotiations next week, one source said it was likely that further talks on master contract issues will occur during the week of Jan. 27-Feb. 2.
The contract between the ILA and its employers is set to expire Feb. 6. Originally, the contract was to expire Sept. 30, but was extended for 90 days, then once again until Feb. 6.
Cohen said “due to the sensitivity of these negotiations, we will have no further comment at this time.” - Chris Dupin