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Strike Threat Looms Over US East and Gulf Coast Ports in 2024

The CMA CGM Marco Polo, an Explorer class container ship crosses under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, to enter New York Harbor as seen from Brooklyn, New York, U.S., May 20, 2021.

Posted on November 13, 2023

Even before contract negotiations get underway, the threat of a strike shutting down US ports on the east and Gulf coasts next year is looming.

The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), which represents 45,000 dockworkers at the ports, reaffirmed its commitment to strike if negotiations for a new labour contract do not reach a fruitful conclusion by 30 September 2024, when the current six-year agreement expires.

In Nashville on Tuesday, ILA president Harold Daggett told hundreds of ILA members and officers at the union’s Educational Conference to prepare for a strike to commence on 1 October, 2024.

He reiterated that there would be no extension of the existing agreement if the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), which represents employers at east and Gulf cost ports and the shipping lines serving them, fails to produce a deal.

At a union convention in July, Mr Daggett had said: “If it goes to the wire, I will guarantee there will be no extensions, and we will be out on the street.”

And the bar for the looming contract negotiations is high. On Tuesday, Mr Daggett repeated that he expected to achieve a landmark agreement. The ILA has not spelled out specific demands, but on the west coast the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union secured a 32% pay rise over six years, plus a one-time bonus for work carried out during the pandemic.

Beyond remuneration, the ILA wants to ensure work at new terminals will go its members, an issue fraught with controversy. The union has sued USMX and two carriers, Hapag-Lloyd and OOCL, for $300m over a hybrid labour model at the Leatherman Terminal in Charleston, arguing it violates the existing master agreement.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled this year that the union has the right to sue employers, a ruling subsequently confirmed by a court of appeals. The issue is now before the US Supreme Court.

A third flashpoint is the ILA’s stance to maintain prohibitions against terminal automation. Mr Daggett has made it clear that this opposition will continue.

And he wants ILA local branches to start negotiations early in order to resolve local issues before the master contract talks get going. This appears to be a lesson learned from the 13-month contract negotiations on the west coast, which were held up for weeks and months by local issues.


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