Oh, ILWU contract negotiations, to what shall I compare thee?
How about football! And the World Cup is over so I’m talking American football.
It’s not just the world of international shipping where contract negotiations are one of the top stories. If you’re a football fan checking out your team coverage while waiting for football to finally start, there’s a good chance you’ve read about contract negotiations between NFL players and their respective teams.
Like the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) contract negotiations with the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association) have dominated international shipping headlines for months (with the biggest exception being the P3 Alliance failing in its bid for approval), Ndamukong Suh’s contract negotiations have dominated Detroit Lions headlines.
The latest news stories on each sound similar. Both talks are taking a break.
Here’s the latest statement from PMA and ILWU:
After several days of productive contract talks, both parties concluded negotiations on Friday afternoon.
No talks will take place from July 28 to Aug. 1 so that the ILWU can resume unrelated contract negotiations in the Pacific Northwest.
The PMA and ILWU will resume their contract negotiations on Monday, August 4, in San Francisco.
The previous labor contract covering nearly 20,000 longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1. While there is no contract extension in place, both parties have pledged to keep cargo moving.
This break from negotiations between the ILWU and PMA comes as no surprise; they previously announced the break was on the way.
The break in negotiations between the Lions and Ndamukong Suh, on the other hand, does come as a surprise. That’s one of the biggest reasons I bring up this comparison.
Yes, contract negotiations between an individual and an organization is very different than negotiations between an organization and another organization (say a union like the ILWU, as a random example). On top of that, comparing NFL or sports industry contracts to international shipping industry contracts may seem like comparing apples to oranges. But there are things that all contract negotiations have in common. Among those commonalities are uncertainty and the possibility that things could fall apart (I didn’t just repeat uncertainty in a different way, did I?).
The Lions and Suh are not merely taking a few day break from negotiations as the ILWU and PMA are doing. The Lions tabled contract negotiations until after the 2014 season. This creates the risk that the Lions could lose Suh altogether. Only days before, the news on the contract was that everyone was optimistic about it getting done.
There’s optimism around the ILWU contract negotiations as well. And with good reason.
Peter Tirschwell said in a Journal of Commerce article, “Despite the absence of a contract, 2014 has been — so far — the smoothest ILWU-PMA negotiation in recent memory.”
Absence of a contract makes people nervous. Lions fans are nervous about losing their star defensive player after the 2014 season when his contract expires and the ILWU contract already being expired has international shippers worried about losing service at West Coast ports. Of course, port shutdowns would be an incomparably worse scenario than a player leaving one NFL team for another. But with contract negotiations come uncertainty and worry.
Despite not having a new contract, Lions fans know Suh will do his best on the field this season. In fact, Suh likely will try to find a way to play even better in order to increase his value and get more money in his next contract. Unfortunately, international shippers cannot have the same confidence in the ILWU.
The ILWU is working without a contract. Often that means slowdowns or strikes from the ILWU in an effort to create pressure or leverage in the contract negotiations. However, optimism remains high that neither slowdowns nor shutdowns will happen as “both parties have pledged to keep cargo moving” according to their multiple joint statements.
West Coast ports have lost market share in recent years and face more competition than in the past. Traditionally, the ILWU has been more concerned with how much they get in their contracts than with port performance during contract negotiation years, but perhaps the vulnerability of the West Coast ports, and therefore ILWU jobs, will make the ILWU work like an NFL player in a contract year.