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Published: 6 June 2012      

ILA looks for job guarantees

The exchange of public letters between the US Marine Alliance (USMX) and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) indicates terminal operators are likely to have an even tougher time introducing automation at east coast ports than thought

USMX CEO James Capo has accused ILA President Harold Daggett of being “less than committed to engaging in meaningful bargaining” over his demand that terminal operators guarantee a job for every worker displaced by automation. Daggett has responded that he regards Capo’s letter as a “thinly veiled attempt to try to turn the ILA Wage Scale Delegates against me."

The ILA is putting itself in a difficult position by trying to insist the USMX agree to full job protection before the parties start contract negotiations. Earlier this year at the Trans Pacific Maritime Conference, Daggett said that “we know technology is coming and we know we can’t stop it forever, but we will not be deterred from protecting our work and jurisdiction.”

Daggett likened today’s automation debate to the one in the 1960s over the introduction of containerisation, which he said reduced longshoremen in NY/NJ from 35,000 to less than 4000. Daggett referred to the ILA president at the time, Teddy Gleason, as a “legendary” president that allowed automation to flourish, "but he always protected the jobs and livelihoods of every ILA member.”

This is no doubt a reference to the “guaranteed annual income” (GAI) for any worker displaced by containerisation and the container royalty fund where the ILA receives a tonnage based payment from containerised cargo.

The USMX or any other employer group is unlikely to agree to something similar to the GAI today and it was not part of agreements on automation reached for APMT Virginia, or the Trapac and Hanjin terminals in Jacksonville.

APMT took a big step forward with the level of automation at Virginia, where it got the ILA’s acceptance for remote controlled automated stacking cranes (ASCs) in the yard in return for handing over ILA jurisdiction over the maintenance shop. Trapac won another concession when it got the ILA to agree to crane OCR to record container numbers automatically during discharge and loading.

Although Hanjin Shipping’s Dames Point Terminal at Jacksonville has not yet been built, Hanjin did conclude an agreement with the ILA that reduced the crane gang size from the 25 members the ILA was seeking to 18 (with eight workers in the container yard). However, Hanjin did not negotiate through the ILA’s central office, but with ILA locals in Jacksonville.

At his election acceptance last year, Daggett spoke of his intention to unite the ILA and made it clear that no local ILA has the right to agree a contract modification. “We cannot have a union within a union,” he said, and “no local union has the right to modify any ILA agreement without the approval of the executive, and me.” The ILA’s stance on the terms and conditions of the contracts above is that they are outside what is currently in the Master Contract and not a precedent.

With regard to container weights, the ILA views this as important to stopping revenue leakage from its container royalty scheme. This is a tonnage-based charge and the ILA said a study put the “overweight factor” at 26%, costing it over US$100M a year in lost royalties.

Daggett also views identifying overweight containers as a way to gain leverage over chassis pool operators and force them to use ILA labour. Another of the ILA’s “hurdles” is that chassis pool operators join the USMX, but Capo has said USMX cannot compel pool operators to join.

Daggett has previously said ILA could refuse to allow overweight boxes to leave the terminal on safety grounds and insist on ILA labour to load some of the cargo into empty containers, which it would require to be on chassis handled by ILA labour.

In many respects this contract negotiation is a critical juncture for the ILA. Rather than bargain over the conditions and manning levels associated with new technology it is demanding “job protection for the members affected by automated terminals.” The ILA is effectively trying to wind the clock back on agreements covering AMPT Virginia and the future Hanjin Terminal in Jaxport.

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