Friday, December 28, 2012
Dockworkers Strike Threatens to Close East Coast Ports
The union has also complained about other demands the alliance is making for a proposed six-year contract, including delayed contributions to the union’s health care fund and annual raises that are below inflation.
Notwithstanding its historical reputation, Mr. Daggett’s union has grown tamer since its 1977 walkout. Federal prosecutors have cleaned out much of the organized crime influence in a union long considered one of the most mob-infested. But after decades of labor peace, the elements for a huge confrontation are in place. Mr. Daggett vowed to stand up to employers when he took the union’s helm last year.
At the same time, the maritime alliance is taking its toughest bargaining stance in years. It sees an important opportunity for increased business in East Coast ports now that the Panama Canal is being widened. The alliance says high labor costs will hurt East Coast ports when Asian companies like Toyota and Samsung are deciding which coast to use for deliveries.
Mr. Capo also voiced fears of losing business to less expensive East Coast ports like Jacksonville, Fla.
“The I.L.A. faces some tremendous nonunion, non-I.L.A. competition, particularly in the South and the gulf,” he said. “With these kinds of wages, they can’t survive in an open market.”
Dorothy Sue Cobble, a labor relations professor at Rutgers, said the maritime alliance’s push to cut labor costs was an example of increased assertiveness among employers at a time when unemployment remains high and many unions are struggling.
“A lot of employers feel it’s a good time to demand and receive givebacks,” she said.
East Coast and West Coast dockworkers have separate unions. The West Coast association, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, is known for being leftist and active in politics. It supported the Occupy Wall Street movement, and on Nov. 27, the union’s clerical workers, worried that some jobs were being outsourced, began an eight-day strike that crippled the nation’s two busiest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.
Business groups said the 11-day lockout that closed 29 West Coast ports in 2002 cost the nation’s economy $1 billion a day until President Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act and ordered the ports reopened.