International Longshoreman’s Association Strike Looms

Safe, For Now

International Longshoreman’s Association Strike LoomsThe International Longshoreman’s Association broke off talks with the United States Maritime Alliance, (an association of ship and terminal owners), on December 18th. They began nine months ago. The deadline for an agreement was 12:01 a.m. this Sunday. A federal mediator convinced both parties to agree to a 30 day extension of the current contract.

The union handles cargo containers in fourteen eastwen ship yards from Maine to ports as far west as Houston. The union is not large in numbers compared to the Teamsters, but a strike would completely shut down the ports. These are highly skilled workers who cannot be easily replaced.

Hundreds of businessmen have written letters to the President pleading with him to enforce the 1947 “Taft-Hartley Act” and prevent a strike. G. W. Bush invoked the act most recently in 2002 to prevent a lockout of the ports on the west coast. The west coast longshoremen belong to a different union.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimate that if the strike occurs, 136 million dollars a week will be lost in personal income and 110 million dollars in economic output during the same period. “The last thing the nation needs right now is a strike that would shut down the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports,” said Jonathan Gold, the National Retail Federation’s vice president for supply chain policy. “This will have a huge ripple effect throughout the economy.” The strike, combined with tax increases and federal budget cuts set to begin on January 1st, if the government cannot come to an agreement this weekend will devastate an already weak economy.

There are several issues in contention, but one primary demand by the United States Maritime Alliance seems to be the “stumbling block”. “Container royalty payments” are monies shared by the company with the union members for each ton of material handled. Last year the companies say they paid out 211 million dollars in royalties, averaging $15,500 per worker. Companies want to freeze these payments for current workers, and eliminate them for new hires. The container payments were created in the 1960s to compensate the longshoremen as ports embraced automation and the use of standardized, 40-foot-long containers to ship goods. That caused a big decrease in jobs and working hours. Employment of longshoremen in the Port of New York and New Jersey has dropped to 3,500 from 35,000 in the 1960s.

The Alliance claims that union members make 124,000 dollars a year on average in wages and benefits. Union leaders say the average is 75,000 dollars a year before benefits.

Can they accomplish in 30 days what they could not in 270? I certainly hope so.

James Turnage

News Correspondent-The Guardian Express

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