By Matt Tomsic
Published Sept. 25, 2012
Dockworkers and ocean carriers agreed last week to a 90-day contract extension, postponing the risk of an East Coast and Gulf Coast strike in October.
The International Longshoremen’s Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance resumed negotiations last week after they stalled amid questions about compensation. The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Services agreed to mediate the negotiations, and its director announced the contract extension, which expires Dec. 29. The contract was set to expire Sept. 30.
“In taking this significant step, the parties emphasized that they are doing so ‘for the good of the country’ to avoid any interruption in interstate commerce,” said George Cohen, the director. “This extension will provide the parties an opportunity to focus on the outstanding core issues in a deliberate manner apart from the pressure of an immediate deadline. Due to the sensitive nature of these high profile negotiations, we will have no further comment on the schedule for the negotiations, their location or the substance of what takes place during those negotiations.”
The two sides have been negotiating a new contract to replace the current contract, which began Oct. 1, 2004, and received a two-year extension in 2009. It covers longshoremen from Texas to Maine and affects a couple thousand workers directly in Charleston. As the contract’s expiration date neared, dockworkers and ocean carriers faced a potential strike at East Coast ports, including Charleston.
Joseph Bonney, senior editor of the Journal of Commerce, said in July, the two sides reached agreement on two key issues: chassis management and automation. The agreement preserved the longshoremen’s jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair and allowed temporary payments for dockworkers displaced by automation.
The talks broke down in August, though, during negotiations about compensation practices.