Longshore Union Calls It a Win
Declining to wait for the 80-day Taft-Hartley cooling-off period to expire December 27, the longshore workers union and port operators announced a tentative agreement November 23. The ILWU was convinced that any contract reached on their own would be preferable to one forced on them by Congress or the courts.
The agreement’s details will not be released until ratification by the ILWU’s Longshore Division Caucus, meeting in mid-December. ILWU rank and filers will most likely vote in January.
The main sticking point during contract talks remained the implementation of labor-saving technology. The ILWU argued that it was not opposed to modernization on the docks--but demanded that any new work using the technology should be performed by union workers.
The ILWU confirmed with Labor Notes that this issue was resolved on terms favorable to the dockers. From now on, ILWU marine clerks will handle any work using optical scanning devices, remote cameras, or geopositioning satellites. But there will be fewer of them.
The technology will eliminate the jobs of 400-600 clerks, who staff truck gates and do “yard planning” and “rail planning,” that is, schedule the movement of unloaded cargo on the docks and to rail, trucks, and other ships. However, the clerks will be guaranteed work on the docks until they retire.
Previously, some of this skilled work had been contracted out to non-union workers. It appears that the union did not regain “vessel-planning” work, which involves sequencing the placement of cargo on ships.
The union wanted any increased profits generated by technology to be shared with workers. Pensions will rise by almost 60 percent. The longshore worker’s basic wage will increase by $3 an hour, or almost 11 percent.
The six-year agreement is double the length of past ILWU contracts, a provision some see as too big a concession to employers.
The members of the Longshore Division Caucus, about 80 workers, are elected by the locals at each West Coast port. Each local has one vote for every 100 members, with the smallest locals having at least one vote. This structure was created when the West Coast dockers split off from the International Longshoremen’s Association in the 1930s, partly over a concern for union democracy.
The caucus met before bargaining started to establish the union’s demands, with the 13-member bargaining team formed as a subset of the caucus. The caucus will review the tentative agreement line by line and recommend to members to accept or reject.