Shipping Companies, Longshoremen Reach Tentative Pact; Avert Strike

By Carl Horowitz, National Legal and Policy Center

Whatever else might be said of the International Longshoremen’s Association, this is one union that knows how to drive a hard bargain. On December 27, a federal mediator announced the ILA and the U.S. Maritime Alliance had reached a tentative contract agreement, thus heading off a potentially crippling strike at 14 Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. The key obstacle to a settlement – whether or not to scrap cargo container royalties amounting to over $15,000 per worker a year – has been removed. Port owners had argued the practice is needless and costly; the union had insisted it is fair compensation for jobs lost to automation. ”The royalty will stay intact,” ILA Executive Vice President Benny Holland assured members. “We have worked out a formula for it.” The remaining details are expected to be resolved by the January 28 deadline.

Union Corruption Update described at length this past September how the ILA, which represents around 65,000 employees at East Coast, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico and other cargo ports in the U.S. and Canada, is mired in inefficiency and cronyism. Union leadership has a lot to do with these problems, having negotiated them into a succession of contracts. Common union practices now include paying three dockworkers to operate a one-person crane and paying a dockworker up to 24 and even 27 hours for performing a standard eight-hour shift. As for corruption, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor has concluded following public hearings in late 2010 that the union had at least nine relatives of late Genovese crime family boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante on its payroll. These and other workers, noted the commission, often hold “no show” jobs and are “overwhelmingly connected to organized crime figures or union leadership.”

The end result of such arrangements is that ILA workers receive levels of compensation that are unusually high even by union standards. The average Longshoremen annual wage and benefit package is now $124,138, with salary/wage comprising roughly $100,000 of that. The latter figure is roughly double what unionized full-time U.S. workers as a whole receive. At the Port of New York and New Jersey, nearly three dozen members at its various terminals make at least $368,000 a year in wages and benefits; one in three workers make at least $208,000. The waterfront commission found that shipping companies in some cases have had to pay salaries exceeding $400,000 for jobs that “require little or no work.”

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