ARBITRATIONS declined 55 per cent and work stoppages decreased 82 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year, moves interpreted as a sign that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) wants cargo to return to the US west coast to protect dockworker jobs.
Referring to the four months of work slowdowns that crippled west coast ports during the coast wide contract negotiations of 2014 to 2015, Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) president Jim McKenna said there is a realisation among the ILWU leadership and rank and file that "the perception of the ports, the credibility of the ports, means jobs? reported IHS Media.
Importers and exporters have been moving cargo to east coast, Gulf Coast, and Canadian ports in the wake of the disastrous contract negotiations of 2002. West coast ports have lost a 12 per cent share of US imports from Asia since then because work slowdowns and stoppages - including in 2002 and 2014 to 2015 - have left the ports with a reputation of unreliability.
After the 2014 contract agreement was finally reached in February 2015, the leaders of the ILWU and PMA discussed the future of labour relations on the west coast. They said, "What we are doing is not sustainable. People are watching," Mr McKenna told the JOC Port Performance conference in Newark.
One year later, the ILWU approved a five-year contract extension that will ensure coast wide labour peace until July 1, 2022. In addition to the absence of a coast wide work stoppage or work slowdown, longshoremen at individual ports have reduced events that require an arbitrator's ruling by 55 per cent. Arbitrations often follow a picket line, which causes work stoppages.
However, the record of positive behaviour deteriorated somewhat over the past few months when ILWU Local 63 used picketing as a weapon in its ongoing efforts to organise management supervisors at two terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach.
The strategy is designed to win pledge cards from the supervisors, enter negotiations with the individual terminal operators, and then shut the terminals down in order to force a contract. ILWU Local 63 has since negotiated contracts with APL-Eagle Marine and Pasha Terminals and Stevedoring.
Employers pointed to the new arbitration provisions in the 2014 contract as the reason why the union was successful in organising the supervisors. When the ILWU posts pickets at the gates of a terminal, there is a 50-50 chance that the arbitrator chosen will be one who was appointed by the PMA. If that is the case, the arbitrator usually rules that the picket is not legal and work resumes.
Southern California employers who have not yet been approached with organising attempts have taken various steps to dissuade their supervisors from signing ILWU pledge cards, such as re-classifying supervisor work. Some employers have laid off a number of supervisors and given raises, reportedly as much as US$50,000 a year, to the remaining supervisors.
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