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ILA suspends talks, warning that there is no confidence in the agreement before the deadline

The International Longshoremen’s Association is continuing its hard line against port automation, announcing today the suspension of contract negotiations due to a problem with gate automation. In just four months, the master contract for all ports on the US East Coast and Gulf Coast expires. The ILA said in its statement that it has “very little confidence that these issues will be resolved in a timely manner.” In the past, the union had said it would not go past September 30 and strike.

The suspension came just one day before the ILA and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) were due to meet for talks on the master agreement. Talks on the local contracts have been ongoing since last year with the goal of completing that phase and now moving into the master agreement. The ILA says it will not meet with the USMX until the current automation issue is resolved.

The ILA cites APM Terminals, Maersk’s port company, as the reason for the suspension. The company uses an auto-gate system at the port of Mobile, Alabama, that handles trucks without ILA workers. The ILA says it has received reports that the system is also being used at other ports.

In announcing the suspension, they said this was another example of efforts to circumvent the current contract, calling the Auto Gate system a “clear violation” while accusing APM Terminals and Maersk of “repeated attempts” to circumvent the contract.

“There is no point in negotiating a new agreement with USMX when one of its largest companies continues to violate our current agreement with the sole goal of eliminating jobs at the ILA through automation,” said International President Harold Daggett, who serves as the union’s chief negotiator.

The contract covers at least 45,000 longshoremen on the US East Coast and Gulf Coast ports. The union says it has a total of 85,000 members and is also represented in ports on the Great Lakes, inland river ports and as far south as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

The ILA has long expressed deep concern about automation and the union reiterates this in its statement. They point to President Daggett’s strong stance against any technology that threatens ILA jobs. It’s a long-standing issue for the East Coast union, which states in its statement today, “The ILA lost tens of thousands of jobs in the 1970s due to containerization.”

They specifically point to Maersk, saying the shipping company “has a track record of driving automation.” They also call on President Joe Biden to recognize the threat to American jobs.

The ILA said it was convinced that there were still many problems in the current agreement that needed to be resolved before negotiations could resume. With the contract expiring in less than four months, “the ILA has little confidence that these problems will be resolved in a timely manner.”

Daggett said he believes “this time it’s caught up with them.” He blames management for dragging its feet in the past when it comes to contract negotiations. That’s a different attitude from a month ago, when the union and USMX said they were confident they could reach an agreement in time.

Experts warned that a strike in the closing stages of the presidential election would have devastating consequences for the US economy. In March, the US clothing, footwear and accessories industry association called for “immediate commitment” from the Biden administration, similar to what they had tried a year ago in efforts to conclude the agreement for the West Coast port.

Six years ago, in 2018, ILA and USMX agreed to preliminary terms in June 2018, well before the contract expired. Final ratification occurred in early September with a signing ceremony four days before the contract expired. In both 2012 and 2018, a contract agreement was reached without any disruptions or delays at the ports. Since 1977, USMX and its predecessor organizations say they have negotiated ten new contracts with ILA without a coast-wide work stoppage.