The Retail Industry Leaders Association’s president, Sandy Kennedy, said in a statement Thursday that a “disastrous strike” would be “devastating to the retail industry and would have severe consequences for the U.S. economy.” She said it would force retailers to “redirect their supply chains during the crucial period before the holiday shopping season” and “seriously impede the flow of commerce.”
Negotiations between the ILA and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) broke down last week and there are no plans for them to resume, according to people involved in the talks.
The longshoremen’s union is seeking to protect jobs threatened by automation. It has also sought to protect jobs doing maintenance on the chassis that undergird shipping containers. The maritime alliance, a collection of employers at 14 ports and 24 ocean carriers, is seeking to end or phase out work rules put in place a half-century ago that it said are making it hard for their ports to compete with West Coast ports, Canadian ports and railroads.
“In many ports we are dealing with archaic work rules, things that go back years and don’t make any sense,” said James Capo, chief executive of USMX. “It ends up with us paying billions of dollars. . . . The ILA has absolutely refused to discuss it.”
The ILA did not return phone calls or e-mails.
“There are threats of a strike,” Capo said. “I don’t know if we’ll have one or not. We’re kind of at a standstill.”
Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari is monitoring the talks, and Capo said they have spoken twice.
Overall, the maritime alliance said, ILA workers receive $124,138 a year in wages and benefits.
But USMX said it is targeting “antiquated work rules” that date back a halfcentury and have made the Port of New York and New Jersey “the most expensive port in the world.” It said that 34 ILA members at the Port of New York and New Jersey earn more than $368,000 a year in wages and benefits and that one in three makes more than $208,000 a year — not including annual bonuses based on the weight of container cargo.
Those bonuses, known as “container royalties,” totaled $232 million, or $15,500 for the average ILA gulf and East Coast port worker last year, the maritime alliance said. The union gets 10 percent — $21 million last year — through a checkoff on members’ payments, USMX said.
USMX said the container royalties were established in 1960 to protect longshoremen in New York from job losses created by the growing use of automated cargo. Those patterns are continuing; the number of tons of container cargo has increased from about 50 million tons in 1996 to 110 million in 2011.