Saturday, May 23, 2015

Union Ratifies West Coast Deal as Container Freight Returns to Normal

Temporary End to the Dock Labour Contract Merry Go Round
Shipping News Feature

US – This week saw the ratification of a new dock labour contract for the West Coast ports which were recently choked with vessels and container freight as members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) slowed work whilst they argued for a new deal after the existing contract expired. As we have witnessed so often previously, all is now smiles and cuddles now that February’s ‘tentative’ five year agreement, offered by the employers, in the form of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), has been formally accepted by 82% of the workforce in the vote to ratify the deal.

Voting results were certified by the ILWU’s Coast Balloting Committee, which was chosen by Coast Longshore Caucus delegates elected from each of the twenty nine West Coast ports and the new agreement will expire on 30 June 2019 having been ratified retroactively from 1 July 2014. The previous contract was ratified in 2008 with a vote of 75% in favour. Acceptance of the new deal seems complete on both sides, with ILWU International President Robert McEllrath saying:

“The negotiations for this contract were some of the longest and most difficult in our recent history. Membership unity and hard work by the Negotiating Committee made this fair outcome possible.”

Comments from the employers’ organisation and the ports themselves were also upbeat with PMA President and CEO Jim McKenna commenting:

“This contract provides an important framework for the hard work ahead to overcome new competitive challenges and to continue to position the West Coast ports as destinations of choice for shippers worldwide. From San Diego to Bellingham, these ports have long been the primary gateways for cargo coming into and leaving the United States, and our interests are aligned in ensuring they can effectively, and efficiently, handle the capacity growth that drives economies and jobs.”

The sigh of relief from the ports was almost audible with the Port of Oakland congratulating both West Coast waterfront employers and dockworkers and calling the new contract approval a milestone in recapturing shippers’ trust lost during nine months of waterfront disruptions. The deal is said to contain an improved system for resolving job disputes along with wage guarantees and health and safety benefits.

Cynics amongst us will of course say that we have seen all this before, fully expecting another round of disputes to start up over on the East Coast when its turn for contract negotiations comes around. 88% was the percentage of International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) members which ratified the last six year East Coast labour deal with the employers’ organisation there, the US Maritime Alliance (USMX), a deal which expires in 2017.

That contract allowed for $1 per hour increases in three of the six years but also meant that certain practices, largely viewed in Europe and elsewhere as archaic, remain in place, such as container royalty payments, introduced in the 1960’s to compensate the existing workforce, now all presumably retired or deceased.

Photo: Ships queue outside the Port of Los Angeles at the height of the slowdown.