by Bruce Vail
The threat of an end-of-year dock strike across the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico succeeded in breaking an impasse in contract negotiations for some 14,500 members of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). Although the new contract was not finalized, a federal mediator reported that a critical sticking point had been resolved in favor of the union. Meanwhile, the moderator says, the existing contract has been extended to Feb. 6 while remaining details are hammered out.
The mediator’s report suggests that the ILA has scored an important victory through the skillful use of the strike threat. ILA President Harold Daggett has been wielding such threats for months, sending waves of anxiety rippling through the businesses that rely on waterfront labor peace for their profits. The anxiety had led even to calls on President Barak Obama to intervene to prevent a strike.
The ILA and waterfront employers were at loggerheads over a demand by shipping companies that so-called “container royalty” payments be frozen, and ultimately reduced or eliminated. These payments, amounting to a total of $211 million last year, are used to supplement the income of some longshore workers, and help fund other union benefits.