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USMX’s Capo: ILA Sees Talks as ‘One-Way Street’

Management’s top negotiator in Maine-to-Texas dockworker contract talks said International Longshoremen’s Association leaders have shown an “uncompromising posture” and “view bargaining as a one-way street.”

James Capo, chairman and CEO of United States Maritime Alliance, responded to a statement last week by ILA President Harold Daggett, who said the union would not accept caps on workers’ container royalty bonuses and would resist changes to work rules and practices.

“The ILA leadership’s latest missive on the negotiations is yet another indication that ILA leaders view bargaining as a one-way street that leads only in their direction,” Capo said in a prepared statement. “It’s incredible that they continue to defend antiquated work rules, manning and other practices that have made many of the East and Gulf coast ports prohibitively expensive, harming our ability to compete and threatening the viability of port operations.”

USMX, he noted, has compromised by reaching tentative agreement last summer on a framework to protect workers displaced by automation, and on continued ILA jurisdiction over chassis repair.

“It is disappointing that ILA negotiators have refused to give the same consideration to issues that concern USMX and the employers it represents,” Capo said. “The ILA leadership’s uncompromising posture is contrary to the cooperation that has characterized bargaining and that for more than three decades has resulted in nine new master contracts without a single strike or coastwide work stoppage.”

The ILA and USMX have engaged in on-and-off contract negotiations since last spring. A federal mediator helped restart the talks in September, when the two sides agreed to extend their contract for 90 days past its Sept. 30 expiration.

The expiration averted the threat of a peak-season strike, but shippers  are at the point of decision on whether to divert cargo or pad stockpiles in advance of the new Dec. 29 contract deadline. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service continues to oversee the negotiations.

Daggett has called a meeting of the ILA’s 200-member wage scale committee for Dec. 10-12 in Delray Beach, Fla. The group must approve any contract agreement before it’s submitted to a vote by the ILA’s 15,000 members.

The exchange of statements by Daggett and Capo is a sign that despite reported progress, the two sides remain far from agreement.

Since his election as ILA president last year, Daggett has vowed to take an aggressive position in this year’s contract. Employers, meanwhile, are seeking to change work rules and practices that raise costs and reduce productivity, especially in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Daggett’s statement emphasized ILA opposition to caps on bonuses supported by carriers’ per-ton royalties on containerized cargo, and to changes in work rules and practices. “They attack work rules in New York and look to strip the seven-man lashing gang in the South Atlantic,” he said. “We understand that USMX has continually played one port against the other, but that strategy will not succeed.”

Capo said management acknowledges that changes in work rules and practices won’t change overnight, but he urged the ILA to engage in “meaningful discussions about these challenges to reach agreement on a new master contract, one that will preserve thousands of well-paying jobs averaging $124,138 a year in wages and benefits and ensure the viability of the ports for years to come.”

“The current economic reality demands that we improve efficiency and productivity at the ports,” Capo said. “It also requires that we begin to control container royalty payments that have risen dramatically since they were first established in 1960, totaling $211 million in 2011 or an average of $10 per man hour. Employers are not seeking to eliminate these bonuses, only to cap them and use the extra money to help pay for benefits for ILA workers.”

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com, and follow him twitter.com/JosephBonney.

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