Port Crisis? Still. Not. Over.

Are you incredulous by this title, that we are still talking about this? You thought this was over, contract was signed? If you know me, or are an importer or exporter, or have trucks at the ports – then you know the day-in, day-out problems we are still having and knows that this crisis is far from over.

On February 20th, most of the US let out a collective sigh of relief – from the White House down to the lowly grass straw shipper. A contract had been signed! What we learned quickly is that this was a tentative agreement, needing to be ratified by both the PMA and the ILWU. Us shippers learned immediately that our constant state of chaos changed – but did not get any better. Wait times at ports for our trucks still exist to this day, congestion at the terminals is extreme, and communication from the ship lines to exporters and importers remain a “best guess.”

Approximately 90 leaders of the ILWU from the entire West Coast will met in a “Caucus” next week to review the contract. Should they decide to recommend that the contract be agreed upon, it will be submitted to the ILWU Rank and File for a 90 days review. And then a vote by secret ballot.

And then the following Journal of Commerce article comes out last night. I read this morning, and can’t do much except shake my head.

Militant ILWU faction calls for contract to be rejected

A group that calls itself the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee will sponsor a rally at 7 p.m. Pacific time on March 31 outside of the international headquarters of the ILWU on Franklin Street in San Francisco. According to a flyer distributed by the committee, six active or retired ILWU members will address the rally.

The committee spares no words in saying that it does not support the tentative coastwide agreement that was reached on Feb. 20 by the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association. “Left unchecked, it will gut the ILWU’s coastwide power and bury the last militant union in the U.S.,” the flyer states.

The tentative five-year contract maintains full employer-paid medical benefits. Longshoremen will retire with a pension that tops out at $88,800 a year. Hourly wage increases are more generous than in other contracts dating back to the 1980s. According to the PMA, full-time longshoremen last year earned on average $147,000. The hourly wage in the last year of the contract will increase to $42.18, but many longshoremen work in jobs that pay skill or overtime differentials that increase the base wage by 15 to 30 percent.

Citing the ILWU’s “proud history of class struggle and the fight for democratic principles codified in the Ten Guiding Principles,” the solidarity committee accused the ILWU leadership of flouting those principles, “using top-down control to direct longshore workers to cross picket lines and keep contract negotiations secret.” The ILWU headquarters declined to comment on the flyer.

The flyer plays loose with certain facts. It accuses the PMA of providing JOC.com with a copy of the contract. While the JOC in fact received a copy of the tentative contract, it was not provided by the PMA or any of its members.

The committee charges that the tentative contract gives employers “a free hand to automate without counter demands of shorter shifts tied to wage increases.”  In fact, the 2002 coastwide contract gave employers the right to utilize computers and information technology at their discretion, and the 2008 contract gave employers the right to introduce automated cargo-handling equipment.

The lengthy and contentious negotiations did include demands by ILWU locals for extra manning in Northern California and a guarantee of 10 hours of pay for eight hours of work for ILWU mechanics in Southern California, but those demands were turned down in the negotiation process.

In possibly the most bitter comment in this short commentary, the flyer said the tentative agreement “follows on the tail of the concessionary grain contracts at EGT and the Northwest Grain agreements.” Some forces within the union are still livid over grain contracts in 2012-13 that were negotiated by the ILWU and grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest. The international grain companies that negotiated those contracts are not members of the PMA and the grain contracts are separate from the coastwide contract.

Since the ILWU has nowhere near the leverage over the international grain companies that it has over shipping lines, the grain contracts are considered more employer-friendly in that they make it virtually impossible for the ILWU to engage in work slowdowns that give union negotiators huge leverage in contract negotiations as well as in the handling of health, safety or work-rule claims during the life of the contract.

Jurisdiction was a sticking point in the negotiations that went on for nine months and led to massive delays up and down the coast. The tentative contract grants jurisdiction to the ILWU to inspect and repair most chassis before they leave the marine terminals, even though PMA-member shipping lines no longer own the chassis.

The tentative contract will also establish a three-member panel in each of the port regions to adjudicate the health and safety and work-rule disagreements that arise frequently on the waterfront. Instead of having just one local arbitrator in Seattle-Tacoma, Portland, Oakland and Los Angeles-Long Beach as is now the case, each panel will include a member nominated by the ILWU, one by the PMA and a third who is a member of either the Federal Mediation and Conciliation service or the American Arbitration Association.

One thought on “Port Crisis? Still. Not. Over.

  1. Pingback: Unfortunately: “I told you so.” | daughter of a trucker

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