Major Ports Facing Crippling Strike After Union Offers Rejected
19 Dec, 2012 Service Advisory Industry News

International Longshormen's Association Locals in the Port of New York and New Jersey rally in Jersey City in January

The prospect of a massive strike that would cripple ports from Canada to Texas gained momentum over the Labor Day weekend when shippers rejected a demand by the longshoremen's union to submit a last, best offer before their current contract expires Sept. 30.

"I'm not sure how the ILA can expect a final offer when we have been unable to engage in any comprehensive negotiations for a new contract," James Capo, chairman and CEO of the United States Maritime Alliance, responded in an Aug. 31 letter to the president of the International Longshoremen's Association, made public Sunday.

The Maritime Alliance represents employers at ports along the Gulf and East coasts, while the ILA represents the 15,000 longshoremen who work them, mainly loading and unloading shipping containers.

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port on either coast, accounting for about a third of all cargo volume and 3,500 longshoremen jobs.

Beyond the longshoremen and their salaries, however, the port accounts for about 280,000 jobs and $40 billion in regional economic activity, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has joined business groups in calling on both sides to resume negotiations.

The latest round of talks broke off Aug. 22, after the two sides had reached tentative agreements on union demands for job security in the face of port automation and outsourcing. ILA President Harold Daggett, a former leader of Newark's powerful ILA Local 1804, has accused the alliance of breaking off the talks, and predicted that a strike will likely occur.

On Friday, Daggett issued a statement noting that strikes had been avoided since 1977 through sacrifice and cooperation.

This time, he said, "They have adopted an ugly strategy that will not succeed."

In Capo's Aug. 31 letter, he said the union killed the talks by balking at the alliance's demand to reform work rules that make the ports "prohibitively expensive."

"Our presentations were simply rejected without any consideration," Capo wrote.

And, he added, "The ILA responded with a threat to strike."

ILA spokesman Jim McNamara declined to comment.