The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and waterfront management at 14 East and Gulf Coast ports today agreed to a 90-day extension of their existing collective bargaining agreement. The extension averts a possible Sept. 30 strike that threatened to disrupt the flow of U.S. commerce during the peak pre-holiday shipping season.
In the statement, FMCS Director George H. Cohen said the two sides have made progress on "several important subjects," which Cohen wouldn't identify. The extension will allow the ILA and USMX to "focus on the outstanding core issues in a deliberate manner apart from the pressure of an immediate deadline," Cohen said in the statement. The talks will continue under the auspices of the FMCS, he said.
This week's mediated negotiation session was 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 was 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.