By Matt Tomsic
Published Jan. 2, 2013
East Coast dockworkers and ocean carriers have agreed to extend their contract through Feb. 6, averting a year-end strike that would have affected East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, including the Port of Charleston.
The International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance announced the agreement Dec. 28. The longshoremen’s association represents dockworkers, while the maritime alliance represents ocean carriers. The S.C. State Ports Authority and other ports are not parties to the contract or negotiations.
Earlier, the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, which is assisting the contract negotiations, said the dockworkers and ocean carriers agreed to an extension and have agreed in principal to container royalties issues, which have been a sticking point, along with work guarantees, overtime and other work rules. The longshoremen’s association president has said a key battle in the negotiations is to prevent a cap on container royalties, while the maritime alliance has proposed capping container royalty payments at 2011 levels for current recipients but making new employees ineligible for the payments.
The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service will continue hosting meetings between the dockworkers and ocean carriers.
“Given that negotiations will be continuing and consistent with the agency’s commitment of confidentiality to the parties, FMCS shall not disclose the substance of the container royalty payment agreement,” said George Cohen, director for the Federal Mediation & Conciliatory Services, or FMCS. “What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement. While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”
The extension came a day before the expiration of an earlier contract extension and removed the possibility of a strike starting Dec. 30. The strike would cover ports from Texas to Maine and directly affect a couple thousand workers in Charleston.
The longshoremen’s association had begun preparing for a strike; on Dec. 19, its president sent a memo to its local unions, which include dockworkers at the Port of Charleston. All local unions should establish strike committees, use language on picket signs provided by the association’s headquarters and avoid violence on their picket lines, according to the memo.
The memo also directed the dockworkers to not handle containerized cargo; though during a strike, they would handle perishable commodities, military cargo, mail, non-containerized cargo and automobiles, according to the memo. Dockworkers would also handle passenger ships.
The two sides will continue negotiations until Feb. 6, tackling outstanding issues including container royalty payments and specific to New York and New Jersey.