SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 8, 2012) — With USMX-ILA Master Contract negotiations well underway, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath issued a statement today reiterating the ILWU’s full support of union dockworkers on the East Coast.
Recent media reports have speculated that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s support of the International Longshore Association in this round of contract negotiations is somehow limited. “No one should listen to the recent hum of industry executives suggesting they know what dockworkers on the West Coast will or won’t do in support of our East Coast brothers and sisters. The fact is that we have their back in the fight to protect work and jurisdiction; their fight is our fight,” stated ILWU President McEllrath.
One of the ILA’s top issues in negotiations is the introduction of new automated cargo handling equipment and its impact on manning and jurisdiction. At the Journal of Commerce’ Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference on March 6, ILA International President Harold Daggett stated, “We know technology is coming and we know we can’t stop it forever, but we will not be deterred from protecting our work and our jurisdiction.” ILWU President McEllrath agrees with Daggett’s stance and said, “Just like the ILA, we know that automation is coming. In fact, the ILWU has a long history, beginning in the 1960’s, of accepting automation provided that all associated work is assigned to the ILWU. But, in the latest wave of terminal automation, it remains to be seen whether our employers are willing to assign us that work.”
ILA contract negotiations over automation have some commentators suggesting that the ILWU and the ILA do not face similar challenges in this area. However, despite the ILWU’s attempt to negotiate jurisdiction around technology and automation in 2008 contract negotiations, the West Coast employer group, Pacific Maritime Association, continues to refuse to honor the deal forcing the ILWU to arbitrate issues that it thought were settled. As a result, the ILWU expects a significant struggle over the introduction of fully mechanized and automated cargo handling equipment technology, putting the ILWU and the ILA in lockstep on this issue.
For the first time in decades, ILWU negotiations follow ILA negotiations in which many of the same issues, including automation, will be addressed. Support between the two unions is essential to maintaining strong contracts on both coasts.