Employers, Dockworkers Come to Terms

November 25, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - In what was described as a "historic" agreement by federal mediators, West Coast dockworkers and shipping companies reached a tentative six-year contract agreement early yesterday.

The deal between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port employers, appears to represent a “win-win” for both sides.  

While details of the final proposal were not disclosed, employers got the go ahead to introduce labor-saving computer technology on the docks, while the 10,500-member union gained the wage and pension increases they had been seeking, according to Reuters.

In announcing the agreement, chief federal mediator Peter Hurtgen praised both sides, saying lead negotiators in San Francisco “demonstrated statesmanlike leadership, which made this agreement possible,” according to the Associated Press.  

Next Steps

Union President Jim Spinosa said the ILWU leadership fully supported the agreement and that a caucus of about 100 rank-and-file members will meet Dec. 9 to “validate and ratify” the pact. They will then visit hiring halls in 29 major Pacific ports to urge dockworkers to approve the contract offer.   The agreement must be ratified by a majority of the ILWU members.

Hurtgen said the tentative agreement provides “substantial improvements in wages and benefits for union members and also provides the necessary technology and dispute-resolution improvements needed to ensure that America’s West Coast ports continue to modernize and increase both efficiency and productivity.”

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping companies, had locked out dockworkers at the 29 major Pacific ports for 10 days during September and October, accusing the union of an illegal work slowdown during negotiations.   The union’s contract ended in July.  

Negotiations had focused on shipping companies’ desire for computerized cargo tracking systems that will make dockside work more efficient – but cost an estimated 400-500 jobs.   In return, the union had pushed for increased compensation and pension benefits (see  Pension Issue Weighs Heavy At Port Talks ).   According to Reuters, Hurtgen said the deal gives the union control over remaining positions or any new ones created from technology.   Full-time longshore workers, who load and unload cargo, make about $106,000 a year, on average, including overtime, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Taft “Craft”

Those actions led President Bush to invoke the emergency provision of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act in an attempt to halt a labor dispute – the first president to do so in nearly a quarter century, and the first ever to use the act to stop a lockout, not a strike.   Taft-Hartley has been invoked 11 times in port disputes in the past.