The head of the New York Shipping Association (NYSA) said he is still hopeful bargaining talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) so that an agreement on a new contract can be reached without a work disruption at East Coast and Gulf ports.
The ILA and USMX have agreed to resume negotiations during the week of Sept. 17 at the request of a federal mediator.
In a statement Thursday, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen said "the parties have agreed to resume negotiations under our auspices during the week of September 17, 2012. Due to the sensitivity of this high profile dispute and consistent with the agency’s longstanding practice, we will not disclose either the location of the meeting or the content of the substantive negotiations that will take place."
In an interview with American Shipper
earlier this week, Joseph C. Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, said “we are still optimistic that we can get back to the bargaining table and strike some kind of deal by the end of September.”
USMX, led by its chairman and chief executive officer James Capo, leads negotiations for steamship lines, terminals, stevedoring companies, and port associations throughout the country such as the NYSA.
NYSA is one of 11 port associations that are members of USMX and holds separate talks with the ILA on local issues particular to the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Curto said if the two sides resume talks and “are talking and bargaining and run up against a deadline and are making some progress, I don’t think management would necessarily be opposed to an extension of some sort if we are making some progress. I’m not talking an extension that goes a year, but a couple of weeks. If we are making some headway, it makes sense to continuing bargaining. Of course, both sides have to agree.”
Curto and John J. Nardi, NYSA’s executive vice president, noted that NYSA-ILA talks scheduled for last week were postponed after negotiations with the USMX on a master contract for ports from Maine to Texas broke down on Aug. 22.
While NYSA was hoping to negotiate in parallel with USMX on local issues, Curto said it now appeared “USMX will have to be substantially completed before we get into some of our stuff.”
The master contract between the ILA and USMX sets wages and covers containerized and roll-on/roll-off cargoes, but not breakbulk or bulk cargoes, which are negotiated separately. It covers areas such as jurisdiction, the use of technology for handling cargo, and defines the basic work day. It also encompasses a national health plan for ILA workers on the East and Gulf coasts and oversight of benefits such as container royalties.
NYSA and similar port associations negotiate agreements that cover the pay of skill differentials for specialized workers such as crane operators and drivers, local pension plans, holiday and vacations, starting times for employees, work rules and grievance handling procedures.
There are about 3,300 employees covered by the master contract in New York, more than in any of the 13 other East and Gulf coast ports. There are about 14,500 workers in all the master contract ports.
In a statement issued Aug. 22, Capo highlighted the importance of New York in the negotiations. He said “management’s primary goal in these negotiations is to maintain the competitive position and market share of the ports by improving productivity and removing the inefficiencies that threaten the economic viability of the ports” and said antiquated work rules have made the Port of New York and New Jersey “the most expensive port in the world.”
At that time he said the ILA leadership had been "unwilling to have a meaningful discussion about these archaic practices, among them ‘low-show’ jobs that pay some ILA members for 24 hours of work even if they are only on the job for a few hours a day.”
Curto said about 3,000 of the ILA members in New York are direct labor, handling cargo, driving the machines, or doing clerk and checker work.
He said there are a couple of hundred other ILA members who are supervisors and some of them are paid even when they are not at the terminal, as long as the people they are supervising are at the pier working.
“A ship may be working 24 hours a day…. The supervisor may have come for 6 or 8 hours to do whatever it takes, and is still being paid for 24 hours. A lot of costs in New York come from paying workers who are not necessarily on the pier directly handling cargo or performing specific work for the employer,” Curto said. These workers may include head timekeepers, head driver foremen, head maintenance foreman, head tractor foremen, and chief clerks.
“For the most part they perform some activity and work of value for the employer, so let’s not say they are not useful or reflect a benefit. The problem is the way we pay them,” Curto added.
Curto, a former Maher Terminals executive, bargained with Harold Daggett, president of the ILA, for many years. Before becoming a national officer, Daggett was president of a key ILA unit representing maintenance and repair workers in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Curto said he is disappointed with how the negotiations have gone so far, noting the NYSA has been doing things to improve the competitiveness and attract more cargo to New York and New Jersey. These include lowering the container assessment and working to adjust rail handling rates to attract more rail cargo and focusing the attention of the port authority and government on the need to raise the Bayonne Bridge so that larger containerships can sail beneath it so they can call the major marine terminals on Staten Island and in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J.
“Part of our strategy to improve our competitiveness of the port is to get into bargaining with the union and change some of these work practices and manning that make us uncompetitive," Curto said. "My frustration is that we have been doing all these other things and I want to be at the table to discuss these other things with the union and we have not been able to do so.”
Capo, who last week asked for U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for assistance in getting the talks restarted, had also been in contact with the Federal Mediation and Concilliation Service.
Curto said “at least from the management side, we don’t see any negative aspect to having them (mediators) participate in the process," noting that "federal mediators don’t bargain or make a deal, they just encourage the parties to keep talking."
If a contract is not reached by the end of September, and the ILA went on strike, Curto said he does not know if President Obama would use the Taft-Hartley Act to try and end it. Former President Bush in 2002 used the same law to put an end to the lockout of longshoremen on the West Coast who are represented by a different union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“Of course a strike would have a very detrimental impact on the economy - just-in-time shipments, manufacturing, the consumer side. I’m sure the powers that be would not like to see a long strike because of the effect on the economy," he said.
For that reason, he thinks it is likely that USMX and the ILA would be ordered back to the bargaining table to try and reach at deal.
"At that point shippers would have to decide whether to continue to come or seek alternative routings for their cargo, depending on what they felt about the chances of the parties working out an agreement," he added.
In a separate interview with American Shipper
Wednesday, ILA spokesman James McNamara said
USMX has refused to provide the union with a copy of management's "final
and best offer" that the union wanted to present to about 200 wage scale delegates.
McNamara also complained USMX has tried to pit ILA workers in New York against those in other parts of the country.
"Nobody is buying that, everybody knows what they are doing, we've been predicting that since March. We are aware of that strategy and everybody is behind Harold," he said. - Chris Dupin