After the labour problems on the US West Coast ports in the first half of the year, there is now a threat of strikes affecting the East Coast ports. The International Longshoreman’s Association, which represents dock workers on the US East Coast and Gulf Coast, is engaged in renegotiating the ‘Master Contract’ that governs employment and pay with the ‘United States Maritime Alliance’, which is the employers association for these ports.

This contract is set to expire in September of 2024, with negotiations for a new agreement starting at the beginning of this year. The leader of the International Longshoreman’s Association, Harold Daggett, commented ahead of a conference in Nashville that he would expect the “USMX to deliver a landmark compensation package” and that he would “to fight automation at any of its ports”. He continued, adding that he would “caution ILA members that these upcoming Wage Scale negotiations will be challenging and, because the union will hold firm on its pledge not to extend the contract beyond its expiration date of September 30, 2024, that members should prepare for the possibility of a coast-wide strike in October 2024”.

The International Longshoreman’s Union is a separate union to the International Longshore Workers Union which represents dock workers on the West Coast of the US.
It is unclear if the International Longshoreman’s Union will accept the terms agreed by the workers and the terminal associations on the West Coast. This was quite generous to the dock workers, including a more than 30% increase in pay over a six-year period.

However, agreement was only reached after a series of disruptions to port operations which damaged the competitiveness of the ports on the West Coast. It was the East Coast container terminals that benefited from a loss of confidence by shippers in the reliability of moving consignments through the West Coast, as increased proportion of sea- freight was moved through the East Coast terminals.

If negotiations with the International Longshoreman’s Union are difficult, there seems a possibility that East Coast ports could suffer similar instability, undermining the confidence of their new customers. In particular Mr Dagget’s remarks concerning automation reassert his aggressive position, something which must be a problem for the new, highly capitalised terminals on the South East coast of the US.

Author: Thomas Cullen

Source: Ti Insights

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