Longshore Struggle Brews on East Coast

Search form

Longshore Struggle Brews on East Coast

Longshore Struggle Brews on East Coast
Mon, 1/7/2013 - by Mark Vorpahl

It's a familiar pattern: those on top of the economic ladder enjoy massive profits while expecting workers to sacrifice even more for the "greater good."

This storyline weaves itself into every justification for anti-worker policies. From Washington's potential Grand Bargain that would cut trillions from needed social programs, to the workplaces with their stagnating wages and declining benefits, those on top plead poverty to workers while stuffing their pockets beyond belief.

The argument is also currently being repeated by the giant multinational corporations that control the nation's shipping ports.

Fortunately, the longshore workers are organized into powerful unions that have the ability to fight back against big business greed - something that was recently demonstrated at the port strikes in Los Angles and Long Beach, and which is now underway in the union negotiations happening at ports along the East Coast and at the ports in the Northwest.

Victory in Southern California

An impressive victory was achieved in Los Angeles last month as a result of an eight-day strike by the 800 members of the Office Clerical Unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63.

For two years the workers had been without a contract as a result of stalling by the Harbor Employer Association. The main issue on the table was job security: the employers were hiring more nonunion superintendents through attrition, outsourcing work to nonunion contractors elsewhere in the U.S. and overseas, and finding ways to get fewer employees to perform more work. The members of ILWU Local 63 wanted to put a halt to this not only to preserve their own jobs, but to have these jobs available for future generations.

After two years at the bargaining table, it became clear that the Harbor Employer Association was unwilling to move on the union's issues. The membership was left with no choice but to strike. And it was Longshore solidarity that won the day.

Ten thousand dockworkers refused to cross Local 63's picket line, leaving 10 of the 14 ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach at a standstill and $760 million a day of merchandise untouched.

The strike made the impact it needed to; suddenly, the Harbor Employer Association discovered that they were able to make more movement on the union's demands in a few days than they had for the previous two years.

After eight days on strike, a tentative agreement was reached and later ratified by membership vote. The Harbor Employer Association's attempts to outsource, at the cost of future working class jobs, hit an unmovable obstacle, resulting in a victory that demonstrates how taking collective action to shut down production can win.

Developments on the East Coast

On the East Coast, a different Longshore union is facing its own difficulties. The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) represents 15,000 union dockworkers at 14 ports from Maine to Texas. These ports handle 40 percent of all U.S. container cargo. The ILA is in negotiations with the United States Maritime Alliance Ltd. (USMX), an alliance of container carriers, direct employers, and port associates.

It has been 35 years since the ILA went out on strike. And at the end of December, it looked likely that this stretch was up. Dec. 29 was the final day of extended contract negotiations and the membership was ready to grab their picket signs.

The main point of contention was container royalties, a decades-old fee of $4.85 per ton of container cargo paid to the ILA membership. This is a significant amount of income that the workers take in. USMX insisted on reinstating a cap on this fee that the ILA had successfully fought to remove in the last two-year contract.

In an e-mail an ILA spokesman said the following:

"We let USMX defer $42 million of container royalty money to help pay for the $1.00 an hour increase that was due longshore workers — we, in essence, paid for our own raise —and now USMX wants the CAP back on. They got the benefit and now they want us to go backwards."

On Dec. 28, ILA President Harold J. Daggett sent out a public announcement stating:

"I am pleased to announce that the ILA made major gains on the Container Royalty issue that will protect our ILA members. Consequently, we agreed to extend the ILA Master Contract by 30 days, beyond the December 29th deadline (because of the year-end holidays, the deadline of the new extension will be February 6, 2013)."

What these major gains are remains unclear, and George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is demanding that all parties keep their lips tight for now. Consequently, there is no telling how the next few weeks of negotiations will go.

The ILA membership does not have any reason to stand down from strike preparations. The moment for decision will come when the membership has a tentative agreement in their hands and has a chance to read the fine print, collectively discuss it and vote.

The only certainty is that they are more likely to get a good contract and avoid a strike if they are prepared to go on a strike that will choke USMX's profit flow off.

Article Tabs

"Under The Dome," which relates a mother's concerns about the effect of the country’s filthy air on her child, has been compared to Rachel Carson's seminal work "Silent Spring."

fossil fuel divestment, divestment movement, carbon emissions, renewable energy investments

The question is simple but profound: Whose side are you on?

Forbes Billionaire List, Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg

The 29th annual guide to the globe’s richest found a record 1,826 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $7.05 trillion – up from $6.4 trillion a year ago.

The Rolling Rebellion is launching nationwide, creative direct actions to draw attention to the biggest corporate giveaway in history – before it happens.

When I was in southern Pakistan last year, poor youths told me that constant police pressure combined with unrelenting unemployment made joining the militias the only viable means of survival.

Through "evergreening,” pharmaceutical companies could could retain ownership of and royalties to drugs for which their patents have expired – limiting access to generic forms of medicine that millions need.

Posted 6 days 17 hours ago

It's not easy writing a play about injustice in America much as it's not easy telling the complex, multi-layered story of the Occupy movement – something Catherine Hurd set out to do in her musical that premieres this week.

Posted 6 days 18 hours ago

The 5 Largest U.S. Financial Institutions And Their Effects

Posted 5 days 18 hours ago

As the European Commission president who helped define Europe's austerity-driven financial policies, Barroso advocated doing "whatever is necessary to make sure the euro thrives and to regain the trust of financial markets.”

Posted 5 days 18 hours ago

The only way to beat organized money is to have organized people.

Posted 5 days 18 hours ago

Using his veto power for only the third time, Obama offered no indication of whether he'll eventually permit construction of the pipeline that has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate about environmental policy and climate change.

Agreeing to Investor-State Dispute Settlement in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the U.S. further in favor of big multinational corporations – worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.

Against the backdrop of violence and greed, this character – the Activist – shows up again and again throughout the story of the U.S., refining the tools of nonviolent action into something as American as apple pie.

The DEA is collecting hundreds of millions of records about cars traveling on U.S. roads – but who approved the program, where does the data go, and are there limitations on its use? No one seems to know.

public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, Ellen Brown

New bedfellows are writing what may be the next chapter in the story of our democracy: a network of public banks to facilitate a lateral, collaborative distribution of affordable credit that challenges Wall Street's control.

Sign Up