Strike Averted! (For Now); Longshoremen and Container-Carriers Agree to Negotiation Extension


Longshoremen workers at ports along the East and Gulf Coasts were set to go on strike Sunday. That’s before their union agreed to extend contract negotiations with the U.S. Maritime Alliance for at least another month.

In other words, we were threatened with the frightening prospect of losing out on the fresh shipment of consumer goods such as televisions, sneakers and video-games — and, to be fair, actual necessary goods as well.

Lest we forget, the marine shipping industry is big business, and longshoreman facilitate the transfer of goods shipped by water to the U.S. The 14,000-plus worker strike could have led to billions of dollars in losses nationwide and millions of dollars in losses to our region alone.

The International Longshoreman’s Association and USMX, which represents over 20 container carrying companies, have been embroiled in stalemated contract negotiations since the current contract between the two entities expired in September.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a governmental agency, helped negotiate the agreement ahead of tomorrow’s midnight deadline — a deadline stemming from the 90-day extension that the two sides agreed upon in late September.

The longshoremen are primarily fighting to preserve their long-held right to container royalties. They fought for the container royalty system during the 1960’s to tide technological advances in containerization, which rendered hundreds of thousands of longshoremen jobs obsolete.

Since containerization made work more scarce for the remaining longshoreman, they negotiated a royalty fee for every ton of cargo shipped by container. Those fees are used to supplement worker salary and health insurance.

“Automation continues to reduce the number of hours for hard working ILA members,” the ILA writes on its website. “Container Royalty wage supplements are more important today for ILA members than its ever been to keep America’s commerce moving with skilled, trained longshore workers.”

USMX is seeking to put a freeze on the amount of money longshoremen can collect on container royalties each year — citing the $124,000/year salary average it calculated for longshoremen as evidence of already generous compensation. Of course the union estimates the average annual salary of longshoremen to be a much lower figure.

“[T]he agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement,” George Cohen, FCMS director said in a statement. “While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”

Today’s announced extension is slated to expire on February 6, 2013.