Battlelines harden as USMX and ILA resume war of public letters
A CRIPPLING waterfront strike at 14 major ports along the US east and Gulf coasts appears even likelier after employer body the US Maritime Alliance said yesterday that “it is not in a position” to present the final contract offer that the International Longshoremen’s Association is expecting.
An open letter from USMX chief executive James Capo to ILA president Harold Daggett said employers are unwilling to pay unionised dockers “millions of dollars for time not worked”. Mr Capo said USMX sees no point in resuming negotiations until the ILA agrees to a more flexible payment regime.
A USMX representative said yesterday that Mr Capo would not comment beyond the public letter. ILA spokesman Jim McNamara deferred comment until the ILA office reopened after Monday’s Labour Day holiday.
Mr Capo’s letter responded to a communiqué from Mr Daggett that accused Mr Capo of “destroying years of co-operation and trust” by asking the union to jettison a guarantee of eight-hour shifts at several ILA ports.
The ILA, which represents 15,000 dockers at ports from Maine to Texas, and USMX are negotiating a new contract to replace the one that expires on September 30. The union has all but confirmed it will call a strike from October 1 if there is no agreement.
The decision rests with ILA’s 200 wagescale delegates, who meet this month. The union had asked USMX to table a “final offer” to present to these delegates.
After a previous negotiating round in July, the two sides announced a “breakthrough” on automation and chassis work but the latest volley of open letters suggests this breakthrough was hollow.
Mr Daggett said Mr Capo delivered an “insulting and crippling blow” when the next negotiating round began on August 22. Those talks collapsed within minutes. Mr Daggett said USMX demanded the ILA give up the eight-hour guarantee and “radically change hardfought contractual rules for overtime”.
“These items should not even have been part of contract discussions but USMX insisted talks could not continue unless we agreed to negotiate them,” Mr Daggett wrote. “In all those years since 1977, we have never been presented with a take -it-or-leave-it proposition as we were in late August.”
Mr Daggett said that while USMX trumpets the fact that there has been no industrial action at ILA ports since 1977, it owed this fact to “tremendous sacrifices made by the ILA and a spirit of co-operation between the shippers and carriers on one side and the ILA on the other”.
Mr Capo destroyed this co-operation “in a brief moment” last week, Mr Daggett wrote. However, Mr Capo’s letter states that USMX on August 22 “simply presented the issues that it believed were critical to successfully reaching an agreement”.
“Those issues all centre around inefficiencies that have crept into our operations over the years. I am referring to archaic work rules and manning practices and the system of guarantees and overtime that results in millions of dollars being paid for time not worked,” Mr Capo wrote.
“These inefficiencies are causing many ports to become prohibitively expensive, harming our competitive ability and threatening the long-term viability of our operations. USMX was hopeful that we would receive the same consideration from the ILA as we gave it on critical issues. Instead, our presentations were rejected without any consideration.
“The USMX position is perfectly clear. We stand ready and willing to engage in comprehensive bargaining. However, that must include substantive discussion on the issues raised above. We must discuss putting programs in place that will correct these issues over a period of time.
“I am not sure how the ILA can expect a final offer when we have been unable to engage in any comprehensive negotiations for a new contract, including economic issues.”
NITL urges LaHood to push ILA and USMX back to
Retailers threaten to start diverting cargo ‘within the next week’
PRESSURE is mounting from shippers and cargo interests to get the International Longshoremen’s Association and US Maritime Alliance back to the bargaining table, and one influential organisation has appealed to the US government to intervene, writes Rajesh Joshi.
The National Industrial Transportation League stopped short of calling on the US government to invoke emergency powers ahead of increasingly sharp rhetoric about a possible port strike along the east and Gulf coasts from October 1.
However, NITL chief executive Bruce Carlton wrote to US transportation secretary Ray LaHood, urging him to “strongly encourage the two sides to find common ground”.
Mr Carlton said the NITL is “extremely concerned about the dire consequences of a bicoastal shutdown”, which would be an “unwelcome shock to an already fragile economy”. In particular, labour strife would severely jeopardise the resurgent US auto industry, Mr Carlton told Mr LaHood.
“Other measures” to ward off a work stoppage should be considered only as a “last resort”, Mr Carlton’s letter stressed, although he did not describe what these measures might be. In an election year, some other influential observers have previously told Lloyd’s List that stronger governmental intervention, beyond mere “encouragement”, cannot be ruled out if a strike indeed materialises.
Meanwhile, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation issued separate public appeals to both sides to resume bargaining.
“A disruption of this magnitude would be devastating to the retail industry and would have severe consequences for the US economy,” said RILA president Sandy Kennedy. NRF chief executive Matthew Shay added: “Failure to reach agreement will lead to supplychain disruptions, which could seriously harm the US economy.”
Mr Shay warned that shippers, who so far are not known to have diverted cargoes on a large scale, could now start doing so.
“Now that there is a real risk of disruption, most retailers using the east and Gulf coast ports will be forced to executive contingency plans within the next week to meet in-store holiday deadlines,” Mr Shay said.
“These plans carry great expense but they are necessary to avoid disruptions that will add costly delays to our members’ supply chains.”