The cliff that America sidestepped with time to spare in 2012 was the one on the nation’s docks. On Friday, harbor operators and shippers reached an agreement with the union representing nearly 15,000 longshoremen on the East and Gulf coasts. The key point holding up the signing of a new contract was whether dockworkers would continue to receive royalties on the containers they hoisted on and off ships. With that issue resolved, apparently to the workers’ satisfaction, their union agreed to call off a year-end strike pending the resolution of less contentious points, and the nation was spared a work stoppage that would have slowed imports and exports to a relative trickle.
Had the workers walked, the attacks on them would be easy to imagine. Dockworkers are among this country’s best-paid blue-collar workers; many make more than $100,000 a year. They’re sitting ducks for union critics and are objects of wonderment for many Americans who can’t fathom how nonprofessional work can pay so much.
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen today announced the extension of contract talks between the East and Gulf Coast longshore union and shipping-industry management. The agreement, which apparently has resolved the thorny issue of container royalties, averts an International Longshoremen’s Association strike that had been scheduled to take place Sunday.
Cohen’s statement read:
“I am extremely pleased to announce that the parties have reached the agreements set forth below as a result of a mediation session conducted by myself and my colleague Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director for Mediation Services, on Thursday, December 27, 2012:
“The container royalty payment issue has been agreed upon in principle by the parties, subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement. The parties have further agreed to an additional extension of 30 days (i.e., until midnight, January 28, 2013) during which time the parties shall negotiate all remaining outstanding Master Agreement issues,
While most eyes are focused on January 1 and that storied piece of geography known as the fiscal cliff, another crisis looms next week: A longshore workers strike that could shut down docks along the Eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. The International Longshoremen’s Association hasn’t waged a full-fledged strike since 1977, but is now threatening to do so if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by December 30. The union’s contract with the U.S. Maritime Alliance expired September 30.
Writes the New York Times‘ Steven Greenhouse:
“The strike threat has so alarmed corporate America that more than 100 business groups wrote to President Obama last week to urge him to intervene to push the two sides to settle — and, if need be, to invoke his emergency powers under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act to bar a strike.”
According to a statement released December 24 by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,