By Matt Tomsic
Published Feb. 4, 2013
East Coast dockworkers and ocean carriers may have avoided a strike this week thanks to a tentative agreement to a new labor contract announced over the weekend.
The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, which has been participating in the negotiations, announced the agreement Saturday, which affects dockworkers at the Port of Charleston and other East and Gulf coast ports. The current contract extension was set to expire Wednesday. The International Longshoremen’s Association represents the dockworkers, while the U.S. Maritime Alliance represents the ocean carriers in the contract negotiations. Ports authorities are not parties to the negotiations.
“The tentative agreement is subject to the ratification procedures of both parties and, as well, to agreements being achieved in a number of local union negotiations,” said George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service. “Those local negotiations are ongoing and will continue without interruption to any port operation.”
The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service didn’t release any details about the agreement. The longshoremen’s union president said his members will be impressed with the negotiation efforts.
“We have come away from these master contract negotiations with landmark agreements on automation, protection of chassis work and powerful jurisdiction language,” said union President Harold Daggett. “Our work last week continued this negotiating successes.”
The alliance and longshoremen’s association last extended the labor contract Dec. 28. In preparation, the S.C. State Ports Authority announced extended gate hours in case of a work stoppage this week, but gate hours are now back to normal.
The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service said the dockworkers and ocean carriers 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 while new employees would be ineligible for the payments.
The longshoremen’s association began preparing for a strike last year. 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.