On Tuesday, a press release from the International Longshoremen Association (ILA), delivered via Sheinkopf Communications, called for a shutdown of ports along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, a march in Washington and strike to protest job losses and highlight the hiring practices in some of the nation’s ports that purposely reduce the numbers of dockworkers, causing immeasurable damage to the nation’s economy.
With plans to announce the date of the protest set for this week, the ILA also complains that the Waterfront Commission, which was born of the need to battle crime and corruption that ran rampant on the New York and New Jersey docks during the 1950s and now helps regulate the labor supply, is “damaging the regional economy of the Port of New York and New Jersey” by “causing hundreds of jobs at the port to remain unfilled.”
The press release also stated “interference by the South Carolina Port Authority has reduced the number of dockworkers, injuring not only the port itself, but also the local and national economy.” As more than 500 state workers are currently employed by South Carolina Port Authority terminals. SPCA state employees work as crane operators and equipment handlers while ILA members handle container transport from yard to crane and gate operations.
On Wednesday the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) responded with a statement, “The master contract between the ILA and the USMX forbids any unilateral work stoppage by the ILA for any reason. If the ILA engages in any unilateral walkout, USMX will enforce the contractual rights of its members to the fullest. USMX urges the ILA to remain in compliance with the master contract and thus continue to provide the stable labor environment that has existed on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for decades.”
Further comments have continued to come in and include those of Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), who wrote a letter Thursday to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, “on behalf of U.S. agriculture, forest products and commodities exporters, we ask that you bring your experience and office to bear to prevent such a shutdown, and to protect the economy from injury that in some cases will be irreversible.”
“Unfortunately, we have ample and recent experience as to the impact of the shutdown of operations of marine terminals – in 2002, 2014-2015 and sporadic disruption in between. Another shutdown of our ports would again undermine our reputation as dependable suppliers.”
“Our exports constantly face the challenge of foreign competition,” Friedmann continued. “There is nothing that we export in agriculture, forest products and many commodities, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. If we do not deliver efficiently, affordably and dependably, our foreign customers have demonstrated that they can and will find another source in another country.”
National Retail Federation Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, Jon Gold has said. “Thousands of companies and millions of workers rely on these ports and any disruption to their activity, even for a day, could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy.
“We applaud the fact that the ILA and the U.S. Maritime Alliance have begun informal discussions on a contract extension well in advance of the current contract expiration, but proposing a shutdown runs counter to this spirit of cooperation and may threaten this positive action,” Gold maintained. “We urge the ILA to reconsider its plans and avoid damaging the image of East Coast and Gulf Coast ports as reliable business partners for retailers and other shippers.”
The National Industrial Transportation League, the country’s largest shipper organization, has also prepared a statement, explaining, “The two issues cited by the ILA as the basis for a possible protest in Washington are local matters that should be dealt with locally and not by imposing economic penalties on companies that rely on efficient port operations. We encourage all parties to come together to resolve this issue instead of affecting U.S. workers and companies that are committed to getting their products to global customers.”
With a shutdown threatening to come within the next 30 days, shippers are concerned at the real possibility of delays and economic consequences. The last shut
down by the ILA is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy approximately $1.9 billion per day. Peter Friedman has explained that for every day a terminal is down, it will take at a minimum six days to recover. The Port of New York and New Jersey alone handles nearly $547 million in cargo each day. Issues with the Waterfront commission were almost resolved in 2014 when state senators voted unanimously to eliminate the agency, but they were vetoes by Governor Chris Christie.
Requests for comment from ILA were directed back to the public relations firm that disseminated the press release as no official release has been posted to the ILA website and Kenneth Riley, VP and President of ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, is the only representative quoted therein. Mr. Riley stated the press release has the full backing of the ILA.
Informal talks occurred just February 15th in Delray Beach, FL between the ILA and USMX have been called “productive and fruitful” in a joint statement issued by both sides. The current contract expires in September of 2018 and early negotiations have been seen as welcome preparation to avoid further work stoppage and delays.
Everglory Logistics is closely watching as this unfolds and will continue to bring you updates as more information becomes available.