The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) agreed last week to continue contract negotiations through Feb. 6, averting a strike that would have begun on Dec. 30, but there are still difficult issues for the two sides to address in the weeks ahead, including work practices in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
"There is progress," said one source, who asked not to be identified. "If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have said impossible."
George H. Cohen, director of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said last Friday that “the container royalty payment issue has been agreed upon in principle by the parties, subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement,” and that the two sides would “negotiate all remaining outstanding Master Agreement issues, including those relating to New York and New Jersey.”
Joseph C. Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, said the meeting schedule has not yet been set, but talks are expected to begin sometime next week.
He noted the master contact talks are led by USMX, but added “many of the parties to the master contact and the New York local agreement are the same parties so that when bargaining actually begins there is an opportunity for parties to discuss both New York and master contract issues.”
It’s not clear what kind of deal the two sides have struck on royalties, which are payments above and beyond salaries to ILA members and the union based on the weight of containerized cargo that moves through the ports. Container royalties amounted to $211 million in 2011.
One source described the agreement as a "breakthrough," but said there are still a number of details to work out.
“There was a sticky point and it seems that point we can now move beyond—but now there are other sticky points,” he said.
While USMX had proposed continuing royalties at 2011 levels to the ILA members who receive them today for another 25 years or until they retire, a source said it was evident that proposal was “not going to fly” and that royalty payments would continue in some form.
Another source, who requested to speak on background, said there was some sort of agreement that would fix the level of payments.
One source thought ILA President Harold Daggett was tactically wise to emphasize the royalty issue because it built support among his membership in ports other than New York.
As the talks now move on to address work rules and practices in New York, the source suggested Daggett may find less sympathy from union members in other ports.
Work practices in the port were the focus of hearings of the Waterfront Commission of New York and New Jersey in 2010 and a report that was issued in March 2012.
The commission concluded in its report that “The current system by which the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) is structured and interpreted creates a significant number of prime positions on the waterfront that require little or no work and that command outsized salaries.”
Most sensationally, the Waterfront Commission, charged “those positions are almost always filled with favored individuals – those who are connected to union leaders or organized crime figures.”
In recent years, the union has denounced the Waterfront Commission, an organization that was created in the 1950s to fight crime on the
waterfront in New York and New Jersey. It licenses port workers,
conducts investigations, and has its own police force. But Daggett has
complained the organization continues to unfairly treat all ILA members
like criminals and harasses union members.
Daggett's cousin, attorney George T. Daggett, complained in 2011 that the commission is dedicated to “perpetuating the stigma of organized
crime,” and said New York-New Jersey longshoremen live in a “police
The ILA adopted a code of ethics in 2004, made it part of its constitution, and has appointed two ethical practices counsels to investigate allegations of organized crime influence.
As recently as 2007, a civil racketeering suit by the federal government against the union was dismissed.
While the Waterfront Commission is not involved in the labor talks, its report was the subject of wide media attention, and will be in the background as contract talks continue this month.
Walter Arsenault, executive director of the Waterfront Commission, said last year there are 285 longshoremen in the port who make more than $300,000 per year and several that make more the $400,000 per year. The commission said some ILA workers are paid round the clock while not even at the port.
Those work practices have also caught the attention of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with Patrick Foye, executive director of the agency, saying he was unhappy with the “low-show” jobs as well as the level of minority hiring in the port.
Again, the port authority has no role in the negotiations, but Foye noted the agency has spent billions on infrastructure improvement to benefit the industry. - Chris Dupin