Stalled labor talks threaten to paralyze US ports

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
8/24/12

Ports in the United States could be unable to import and export goods if a labor fight is not resolved by October.

The United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) on Friday said its negotiations with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) union for port workers have broken down.

“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,” USMX CEO James Capo said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the ILA leadership has 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.”

Negotiations between the maritime alliance and the union for port workers have been ongoing since early this year.

The ILA union, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has argued that its demands in the negotiations are fair.

“USMX may not like that process, but the ILA has a democratically elected ILA Wage Scale Committee to negotiate the Master Contract,” ILA President Harold Daggett wrote in a June letter to Capo.

Capo countered, however, that “ILA workers are among the most highly compensated workers in the country, on average receiving $124,138 a year in wages and benefits, which puts them ahead of all but 2 percent of all U.S. workers.”

Both sides in the negotiations are up against an Oct. 1 deadline for reaching a deal. There are 82 ports in the United States that would be affected by a possible work stoppage.

Virginia Port Authority External Affairs Director Jeff Keever told reporters on a tour of the state’s Port of Hampton Roads this week that failure of negotiators to reach a deal could hamper the shipping and cargo industries.

“It’s something that’s of great concern to us,” Keever said. “We’ve had six months of continued growth, a breakdown could impact the economy and (national) supply chain.”

However, Virginia International Terminals Inc. Vice President Joe Ruddy told reporters that he thought the port impasse would eventually end.

“I am confident on a both a national and local level that will be open on Oct. 1,” he said.

http://thehill.com/blogs/transportation-report/1095-other/245269-stalled-labor-negotiations-threat-port-industry

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