A coalition of more than 100 trade associations from around the country is asking President Obama for help in preventing a strike by members of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) as the union posted a document on its Website briefing its members on preparations for a strike to begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 30.
The "Strike Preparations" memo from ILA President Harold Daggett
said "orders to handle containerized cargo shall not be honored," but that orders to handle the following will be honored:
- "Perishable" commodities (fresh with a limited shelf life, not frozen).
- Containerized military cargo, but not household goods,
- Containerized mail.
- Passenger ships.
- Non-containerized cargo.
But since there would be no contract, employers would have to reach agreement with the union to continue to work those sorts of ships or containers. There are 14 ports that are covered by the ILA's "master contract" for containerized cargo.
Joe Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, said there are currently discussions by terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey on what to do in the event of a strike.
In its letter sent to Obama Thursday afternoon, the coalition urged "immediate action by your administration to ensure that a
strike does not occur when the current contract extension expires on
December 29, 2012. We know that there are important issues for both
parties to resolve. These issues will only be resolved if both parties
remain at the negotiating table until a deal is reached.
Some of the organizations, including the National Retail Federation and National Industrial Transportation League, have sent separate letters to the White House. Jonathan Gold, vice president, supply chain and customs policy for the NRF, said his group and others have not heard from the White House in response to earlier letters expressing their concern about a strike.
The latest round of negotiations broke down on Dec. 18.
They note that the ILA and employers represented by the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) have been assisted by the U.S. Federal Mediation and Concilliation Service.
"We applaud the parties for agreeing to use a federal mediator over the last several months. However, even with the mediator there has been very little progress. Failure to reach an agreement resulting in a coast wide shutdown will have serious economy-wide impacts," they said. "The region, particularly the Northeast, is still recovering from the tragic effects of superstorm Sandy. A port strike or other shutdown will only add to the economic devastation already felt by the region.
"Just the threat of a shutdown impacting the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports creates a level of uncertainty in a fragile economic climate which has forced many businesses to once again enact contingency plans that come at a significant cost to jobs and our economic competitiveness," they add.
"We urge you to take immediate action and use all of the options available to you, including the authority under the Taft-Hartley Act, to keep the parties at the negotiating table and avoid a coast wide port shutdown," the letter said.
The NRF said a strike would affect 14 ports: Boston; New York and New Jersey; Delaware River including Philadelphia; Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va., including Norfolk; Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; and Houston.
Signatories to the letter included the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Apparel & Footwear Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, Toy Industry Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The ILA has also posted a detailed document titled "ILA Issues as of Dec. 20
" on its Facebook page
. In it, the union explains its position on container royalties, the issue being discussed on Dec. 18 when the latest round of negotiations broke down. The royalties are a fee of $4.85 collected on each ton of
containerized cargo handled and is distributed to ILA workers as a wage supplement and to the ILA members’ health care fund, called
"When containerization started the ILA was faced with a huge displacement of workers whose jobs were eliminated by the ominous steel boxes," the union said. "The ILA was at a crossroad - allow containerization to be implemented or refuse. The ILA agreed to allow containerization to flourish but negotiated a fee based on the weight of each loaded container to be used for annual payments to the longshore workers whose job opportunities had been compromised due to containerization. As the number of containers being handled increased, the negotiated payment for each worker increased. Rather than being an annual bonus for each worker, as USMX suggests, this payment is compensation for the job opportunities lost by permitting containerization.
"If the carriers don’t want to pay container royalty, then bring back all the warehouses, and start stuffing and stripping again," the union said, noting "a carrier does not have to pay container royalty on a container that has been stuffed and stripped by the ILA. "
The Heritage Foundation said in an article published on Wednesday that the dispute "highlights the economic risks when unions monopolize labor markets. They also remind us that imports do, in fact, create jobs.
" - Chris Dupin