By John Gillie, December 25, 2012, The News Tribune
Tacoma casual longshore workers who have worked long hours to handle a sudden and substantial increase in container business at the Port of Tacoma this year got some holiday cheer this week.
Eighty of those workers will get promotions soon to the regular ranks of longshore union workers at the port.
That means they’ll receive a generous bundle of benefits in addition to the wages they receive for loading and unloading ships, moving cargo to rail cars and other work at the port.
The average cost of those benefits, said the association representing West Coast shippers, terminal operators and ports, is $83,000 per worker per year, including 13 paid holidays.
Longshore health insurance is provided to workers at no premium cost, and medical expenses are covered at 100 percent of usual charges. Prescriptions are available for a $1 per prescription co-pay.
The most senior longshore workers receive up to six weeks’ annual vacation, and annual pension payments can reach $71,040 for the most experienced retired workers.
Average wages in the Tacoma local reached nearly $97,000 last year, and foremen’s wages averaged close to $200,000.
Casual workers, who have been called on to do an increasingly larger share of waterfront work in Tacoma since the arrival of the Grand Alliance shipping consortium in July, have been lobbying for months to be promoted.
The local promoted most of its “B” workers to “A” status soon after the new work arrived at the port, leaving the “B” ranks depleted.
The Grand Alliance’s arrival has strained local resources to handle the greater volume of work. In addition to frequently tapping the casuals for more labor, the union has allowed double shifts for the first time in years.
Scott Mason, Longshore Local 23 president, said the Coastal Labor Relations Committee has given its stamp of approval to the promotions.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippers, ports and terminal operators, is moving forward with physical examinations and documentation to promote those workers, he said.
Under the union’s hiring hall system, regular longshore members are divided into two groups, the “A” workers with top priority for jobs and “B” workers with secondary priority for work. Both “A” and “B” members receive full longshore benefits.
Below those two groups are “casual” workers who receive waterfront work assignments after the A and B ranks are all assigned. The casual workers receive longshore union wages but no benefits.
Once elevated to “B” status, the casual will receive standard benefits.
Casuals with the highest number of hours worked will be the ones promoted, said Mason.
Meanwhile, the union and Pacific Maritime Association, are creating a procedure to renew the ranks of the casual workers. In the past, some potential casual workers were nominated by regular members and others were chosen from the public in a lottery.