The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and waterfront management last Friday night reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract that averts a Feb. 7 work stoppage and keeps 14 U.S. ports from Maine to Texas open for business.
The tentative agreement between the ILA and U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) was announced shortly before midnight by the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS), the federal agency that has mediated the dispute since it flared last September. The FMCS said the deal is subject to ratification and the ongoing negotiation of local pacts affecting the 14 individual ports. All ports will remain open during the follow-through process, FMCS said in the statement.
The deal was struck five days before the Feb. 6 deadline of the third and most recent contract extension. It was reported late Friday night that the contract is six years in duration. However, the FMCS statement did not disclose any information on the contract's length.
The tentative contract agreement ends a four-month impasse that twice brought the ports to the brink of being shut down. The original contract was set to expire back on Sept. 30. Ten days prior, however, both sides agreed to a contract extension until Dec. 29, largely to avoid service disruptions at the tail end of the peak pre-holiday shipping season.
Still, labor and management were unable to reach a deal, and many thought a Dec. 30 work stoppage was inevitable. At the last minute, though, the parties agreed to another extension, this time until Feb. 6.
The focus now turns to the local negotiations, which involve issues unique to each port. For example, the 3,300 workers at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, who account for slightly more than 20 percent of the union's 14,500 members, are concerned about preserving language giving them exclusive authority to repair and maintain chassis equipment provisioned there. By contrast, that is a minor issue for ILA workers at ports in Charleston and Savannah.
In early January, ILA representatives at New York & New Jersey walked out of talks over a local contract with the New York Shipping Association (NYSA), the ship management association at the bistate operation. There was no reason given at the time for the ILA's decision, and union and NYSA officials didn't return requests for comment.
If the ILA and the NYSA don't reach an agreement in the local dispute, the port could shut down, said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, whose members represent many in the retailing trade with huge stakes in the outcome of the labor-management dispute.
"The biggest issue is whether or not the local union would approve the master contract without a local contract and if that would impact the other locals," Gold said in an e-mail the day after the ILA's decision to exit the local negotiations in New York & New Jersey.
Gold said at the time that it is unlikely that Harold Daggett, the ILA's president, would allow a vote on the master contract until all of the local contracts are finalized.