JOC Staff, April 3, 2015, JOC.com
U.S. West Coast shippers are breathing a much-needed sigh of relief after International Longshore and Warehouse Union delegates voted in favor of recommending the tentative five-year agreement with waterfront employers to rank-and-file members.
The rank and file could still reject the tentative contract reached on Feb. 20, but the landside endorsement from the caucus reduces the chances of that happening.
Delegates are expected this month to discuss the proposal with members at their respective ports before the rank-and-file takes the ratification vote by secret ballot. The final tally will be take place May 22, the ILWU said in a statement. Seventy-eight percent of the 90 delegates voted in favor of recommending the agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association to members.
“This agreement required 10 months of negotiations — the longest in recent history — but we secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, families and communities from San Diego to Bellingham,” ILWU International President Bob McEllrath said in a statement. “Longshoremen and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”
Delegates’ recommendation to accept the contract — covering 20,000 dockworkers at 29 ports — brings West Coast employers and the union one step closer to alleviating shipper anger over congestion delays that cost them at least hundreds of millions of dollars in higher shipping costs and a degree of lost sales.
The proposed contract is not revolutionary. It avoids issues of automation that were largely addressed in the previous contract, continues employer-paid medical benefits, including the Cadillac tax in the Affordable Health Care Act that will take effect in 2018, and preserves ILWU jurisdiction over chassis inspections, maintenance and repair, even though the owners of the equipment are mostly non-PMA members, an issue that could raise legal issues down the road.
A controversial element within the proposed agreement is a significant change to how on-the-spot disputes are handled, with the potential for the system to be less favorable to the union.
The tentative contract agreement calls for disputes to be settled by a three-person local arbitration panel, with one member nominated by the ILWU, one by the PMA and one by a neutral arbitrator. The neutral arbitrator on each local panel must be a member of either the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or the American Arbitration Association, but cannot be a lawyer.
That is a significant change from the long-standing system in which grievance procedures involved a single arbitrator in each of the four port ranges — Seattle-Tacoma, Oregon, Northern California and Southern California. The arbitrators in the Puget Sound and at Los Angeles-Long Beach are nominated by the ILWU and approved by the PMA. The arbitrators in Oregon and Northern California are nominated by the PMA and approved by the ILWU. An indication of the sensitivity of arbitrations came when, during the negotiations, the ILWU in Southern California wanted to fire longtime arbitrator David Miller, a longshoreman who comes from a lineage of dockworkers, because he sometimes ruled against the union.
A change in the contract’s arbitration system, however, could result in significant changes in how day-to-day health, safety and work-rule disputes are handled at the local ports.
Grievance procedures involved a single arbitrator in each of the four port ranges — Seattle-Tacoma, Oregon, Northern California and Southern California. The arbitrators in the Puget Sound and Los Angeles-Long Beach are nominated by the ILWU and approved by the PMA. The arbitrators in Oregon and Northern California are nominated by the PMA and approved by the ILWU.
There was controversy within the union about the agreement. A group that calls itself the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee distributed a flyer saying it does not support the tentative coastwide agreement reached on Feb. 20 by the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association.
“Left unchecked, it will gut the ILWU’s coastwide power and bury the last militant union in the U.S.,” the flyer states. The group appears to be a minority, but some locals such as Local 10 in Oakland have a history of opposing directives from the headquarters.