ILWU Slowly Considers Early Contract Negotiations
Back in March, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) officially requested the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) start early talks to extend the current contract that expires in 2019.
Is it going to happen?
Apparently, the ILWU is considering it, but they’re moving about as fast on the topic as they move containers when trying to gain leverage on the PMA during contract negotiations. Which is to say, they’re moving very slowly on the topic.
Ask shippers who import and export through West Coast ports and most will tell you that nothing has hurt them more in recent history than labor strife at those ports.
It took over a year for the PMA and ILWU to negotiate and ratify the latest contract, with negotiations beginning May 12th, 2014 and ratification of the new contract happening May 22nd, 2015. Negotiations seemed to be going smoothly until the ILWU began organized slowdowns in October of 2014 that kept importers from getting goods in time to stock store shelves for the holiday season and made exporters watch as their produce rotted on the docks.
Nothing has hurt West Coast ports in recent history more than labor strife.
The Port of Portland is a perfect example of how the labor union can damage port business. The ILWU hard-timed the port so badly, especially during the contract-less time of the 2014-15 negotiations, that the port lost its carriers who called on the Port of Portland for containerized shipping. All of them as of last month.
The odds of the Port of Portland recruiting container cargo carriers to call on the port are slim because of how much the union slowed down operations there.
The Wall Street Journal reported the following in an article about the port losing its last container cargo carrier:
Port officials added they still hope to recruit another container cargo carrier to call at Portland. Mr. Leavitt said Portland has identified a handful of potential operators but many have expressed wariness of ongoing tension between the port’s dockworkers and the container terminal operator, which has caused delays in handling goods for much of the past two years.
Everyone has been urging the PMA and ILWU to start negotiations early in order to keep these ugly episodes from happening again.
The PMA is definitely onboard. The ports suffered greatly from the congestion that built up during contentious contract negotiations. It was no surprise the PMA requested early talks to extend the contract in March.
ILWU President Bob McEllrath said he would bring up the topic with the union, presumably at the ILWU’s April 18-22 caucus in Panama City, Panama.
Did that happen? Yes.
According to the ILWU’s May 2016 Dispatcher published online on June 1st, McEllrath submitted PMA’s request to the union:
PMA’s contract extension request In March 2016, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) sent President McEllrath a request to discuss an extension of the 2014-2019 Longshore Contract. President McEllrath submitted this request to the ILWU Coast Longshore Division Caucus and the issue was discussed. In keeping with the ILWU Coast Longshore Division’s democratic process, the Caucus has submitted the matter to the membership for review and input before taking any official action.
Does this mean there will be early talks to extend the current contract? No.
Historically, the ILWU does not extend a contract or agree to a new one before the current one expires in order to have the full leverage of strikes and slowdowns while not under contract at its disposal.
However, that does not mean things couldn’t be different this time.
The issue has been officially submitted to membership. At least one official discussion of the topic has taken place. Now the issue is before membership for “review and input”.
Obviously, the union is in no hurry to move on this issue. A quarter of a year has passed since the PMA requested early contract talks on extending and this is the most we’ve heard from the ILWU on the subject. But at least the union is considering the topic. Even if it is doing so slowly.