Friday, January 4, 2013

East Coast Longshore Strike Temporarily Averted

The East Coast union representing dockworkers at 15 ports from Texas to Canada has agreed to extend its contract with an employers group for 30 days while the two sides work on a more permanent solution.

Talks between the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance, or USMX, have been ongoing for months and revolve around, among other things, usage of technology to improve terminal efficiency.

The 30-day extension was agreed to Dec. 29, but due to federal holidays, the deadline is set at Feb. 6.
In late December, the two sides managed to come to an agreement on the issue of container royalty payments, which are payments made to longshoremen based on the weight of the cargo. Since mid-September, negotiations between the parties have been overseen by the Washington DC-based Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the government agency that handles arbitration and mediation of labor disputes and contract negotiations.

The FMCS has refused to publicly provide details of negotiations, but according to agency chair George Cohen, the extension shows that progress is being made.

“Given that negotiations will be continuing and consistent with the Agency’s commitment of confidentiality to the parties, FMCS shall not disclose the substance of the container royalty payment agreement,” he said. “What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement.”

The USMX represents employers at 14 ports and 24 ocean carriers, while the ILA has about 65,000 members on the East and Gulf coasts. The contract between the two sides expired Sept. 30.