The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), a group representing waterfront management at U.S. East and Gulf Coast ports, will resume contract negotiations the week of Sept. 17. The talks will be held under the supervision of a federal mediator in the hopes of averting a work stoppage at the ports once the current labor-management contract expires Sept. 30.
In a statement issued today, the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS) said the parties agreed to resume talks at the request of the independent agency. The FMCS said it would not disclose the content of the "substantive negotiations" or the location of the meeting.
This will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides since contract talks broke off abruptly on Aug. 22. Management accused the union of failing to address issues of archaic work rules at the ports and excessive worker pay and benefits that result in millions of dollars being paid for time not worked. The ILA accused management of forcing the union to give up an eight-hour work guarantee that has been standard practice for years and to "radically change" contractual language governing the payment of worker overtime.
On Aug. 31, the ILA asked USMX to present management's last proposal to the union's 200-member wage scale committee for consideration. Management refused, saying it is unrealistic for the ILA to expect a final offer when talks aimed at addressing key economic issues have broken off.
The specter of a shutdown at ports along the East and Gulf Coasts has forced shippers and importers to look for alternate means to get their goods into U.S. commerce. Some have opted to rebook their goods into West Coast ports, a scenario that could lead to significant backlogs along the West Coast, especially if waterfront labor there decides to strike in sympathy with their brethren in the East.
A number of ship lines plan to impose so-called congestion surcharges to offset higher operating costs associated with any shutdown along the coasts. Danish carrier Maersk Line, the world's largest containership carrier, has proposed surcharges for all shipments to and from the United States and Canada of $800 per 20-foot container, $1,000 per standard 40-footer, $1,125 per 40-foot high-cube, and $1,266 per 45-foot container.
The lines are required to give 30 days' notice before imposing any surcharges, and the surcharges will be rescinded if the ports remain open.