The chief negotiator for U.S. East Coast and Gulf terminal operators and ocean carriers in ongoing contracts discussion with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) said Tuesday he didn’t think unionized dockworkers at U.S. West Coast ports would join ILA members if they strike this fall.
The ILA and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), representing terminal operators and ocean carriers in collective bargaining, are negotiating a new multiyear contract, with the current contract expiring Sept. 30.
“There’s a lot of talk,” James Capo, chairman and chief executive officer of USMX, said at the National Industrial Transportation League’s Freight Transportation Policy Forum in Washington Tuesday. “Would they really do it? I don’t know. Remember, our growth was due to the lockout.”
Capo was referring to how U.S. East Coast and Gulf ports gained business in the aftermath of the 2002 lockout of International Longshore and Warehouse Union members at U.S. West Coast ports.
“We have no interest in giving that business back,” he said. “I think the ILWU would like to have some of it back.”
Mere hours before Capo spoke, ILWU President Robert McEllrath issued a statement
insisting his members would “have their back” in reference to the ILA’s current contract negotiations.
Capo said he’s optimistic that a deal will get done.
“We have a shared history of successful negotiating with the ILA without any type of service disruption,” Capo said. “We’ve worked hard to create a climate of peace and stability.”
USMX’s chief goals are to protect market share and improve efficiency, he said.
“We have to increase the use of technology,” Capo said. “Growth is the best guarantee of jobs. And technology becomes more important with the opening of the new locks on the Panama Canal.”
Capo has heard from port users and their message is clear: “They tell us ‘we don’t want any disruption in our operations, but we don’t want to add any costs.’ I understand the problems customers have when you get to July and there’s no agreement.”
When asked whether the existing contract could get extended, Capo said that’s a possibility.
“But that hasn’t been discussed at the moment,” he said. “Reaching agreement by Sept. 30 is not an option. It’s a cumbersome process, but it is what it is.”
Meanwhile, USMX has set up a Website to provide updates on negotiations: USMXLaborUpdates.com
. - Eric Johnson