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The Pacific Maritime Association, the body representing employers of US west coast ports and terminals in their ongoing negotiations with dockworkers, yesterday put its final offer on the table, breaking with recent precedent in making its terms public.

PMA chief executive John McKenna said: “I have steadfastly tried to keep the negotiations where they belong: at the table – but after three months of slowdowns, and a coast-wide meltdown just a couple of weeks away, I’ve decided to tell the public exactly what we are doing.

He said that the average wage for ILWU members was $147,000 a year, which comes with $35,000 a year in healthcare payments and a maximum annual pension of $80,000.

The PMA has now offered the ILWU a contract which would see a 3% annual increase over the next five years take the average wage to over $160,000 by the time it expired, as well as a pay guarantee of 40 hours per week.

The healthcare payments would continue, while the maximum pension would be increased by 11% to $88,800.

The offer also accedes to union demands that the maintenance and repair work of the region’s chassis be restricted to ILWU members.

Describing the offer as “well beyond our comfort zone”, Mr McKenna said this would be the employers’ final offer for the foreseeable future.

“The PMA has concluded that the latest offer is as far as we can go at this point.

“Now the PMA must decide how much longer we are going to pay longshore workers to work slowly. These slowdowns are having the same effect as a strike, except the workers are stilling getting a paycheque.

“The slowdowns need to stop; the terminals cannot handle anymore and we are close to gridlock,” he said.

He added that the problems were also affecting the long-term competitiveness of US west coast gateways as Panama prepares to open its expanded canal and Asia-US east coast services via Suez are on the increase.

He said that over the last three months, “crippling congestion” had spread from the north-west ports, with productivity at Seattle and Tacoma down by 40-60%, down the coast to the well documented problems at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex.

According to ship tracking information service provided by vesselsvalue.com, there are currently 18 container vessels at anchor outside LA-Long Beach waiting to be berthed, with the longest delay endured by the 8,000 teu MSC Charleston, which has been at anchor since 23 January.

The ILWU claimed it had “pledged to keep the ports open and keep cargo flowing”, and continued to argue that the congestion crisis has been “employer-caused”, in response to the implied threat that the PMA could order a lockout and close the terminals altogether.

ILWU present Robert McEllrath said: “We’ve dropped almost all of our remaining issues to help get this settled – and the few issues that remain can be easily resolved.”

If the PMA closes the ports, “the public will suffer and corporate greed will prevail”, said Mr McEllrath, claiming that the major powers on the employer side were foreign-owned multinational corporations, which is largely true.

“These foreign-owned companies make billions of dollars and pay their executives millions to do their bidding,” he said.

In a message to members, he added: “The coast negotiating team continues to meet in an effort to reach a fair contract that provides security for its rank and file and stability for the industry despite the propaganda and threats from PMA.  I urge the membership to stay strong and united and ignore PMA’s propaganda. Together we will prevail.”

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