The Push for Terminal Automation Sets the Stage for Tough ILA Labor Negotiations
While the USMA (United States Maritime Alliance) and ILA’s (International Longshoremen’s Association) decision to start negotiations next month (February 13 to 17) on a new contract offered optimism, recent comments by ILA President Harold Daggett set a sobering tone to the upcoming discussions.
ILA president Harold Daggett has vowed to fight port terminal automation and has predicted this issue “will dominate” the union’s next round of bargaining with the USMA on a contract to replace the one expiring on Sept. 30, 2018. Daggett also fired warning shots regarding automation last week, reminding shippers negotiations on a new US East and Gulf Coast dockworker contract could be contentious as he emphasized the union’s opposition to fully automated terminals and its renewed focus on local contract issues when ILA and USMX representatives meet in February in advance of formal bargaining expected to start later this year.
The impending ILA-USMX negotiations come as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) also are preparing for open bargaining on a West Coast dockworker contract to replace the one that expires July 1, 2019.
ILA and USMX momentum for a long-term agreement was lost amid ILA jurisdiction and chassis maintenance and repair concerns. Ocean carriers say productivity gains promised in the current NY-NJ local contract have been slow to materialize while Daggett remains “suspicious of automation and wants to maintain ILA jobs and jurisdiction. The ILA is willing to work with our management partners keeping our industry strong and vibrant, but will not submit to agreeing on anything that eliminates jobs.”
Daggett said, “Their president Bob McEllrath and I both know that fully automated terminals spell the end of long shoring jobs, no questions asked,” Daggett wrote in his Facebook post. “The ILA will not allow automation to rip apart our livelihoods and destroy our jobs and families. Right from the outset, the ILA intends to let management know that we are totally opposed to fully automated terminals."
“The ILA has no problem with semi-automated terminals — we know that we cannot stop progress and many forms of new technology help our workers do their jobs more efficiently, more safely, but without the threat of job elimination. We will continue to press for training and retraining for our ILA members,” Daggett wrote.
At present, no fully automated terminals currently exist in East or Gulf Coast ports, although Virginia and GCT Bayonne in New York-New Jersey use remote-controlled, rail-mounted gantry cranes for stacking containers in terminal yards. Last fall, the Virginia port placed a $217 million order for 86 RMGs as part of a major upgrade of its terminals.
The ILA’s increased emphasis on local contracts follows a messy situation that arose in Baltimore after the 2012 to 2013 negotiations. ILA contracts are negotiated in two levels. The ILA-USMX master contracts covers wages, the medical plan, carrier-paid container royalties, and other coastwide issues. Supplemental local contracts cover work rules, pensions, and other port-specific issues.
In 2013, after the master contract was ratified, the ILA’s largest local in Baltimore went on strike for three days over local issues. In a precedent-setting award, an arbitrator ruled that once the master contract takes effect, its no-strike clause can’t be nullified by a dispute over local issues. Daggett has said he would seek changes to ensure that the union retains leverage in local contract negotiations.
“The last time around, several ILA local ports had failed to reach agreement on their local contracts before the master contract was ratified in April 2013,” Daggett wrote. “The ILA will make certain that ILA members at all ports are satisfied with their local agreements before we ask them to ratify the entire contract package.”
During the 2012 and 2013 coastwide NY-NJ negotiations, ocean carriers in USMX pushed hard for productivity improvements at the East Coast’s largest and highest-cost port. More than three years later, the ILA and the New York Shipping Association are still trying to implement changes including second shifts.