An International Longshoremen’s Association strike of East and Gulf Coast ports, including the Port of Charleston, has been averted— at least for now.
The International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents many of the port’s dockworkers, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents shipping lines, say they have reached a deal that will extend negotiations for another 30 days. The two sides reached the temporary agreement after Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director George H. Cohen organized the last-ditch meeting this week.
One of the biggest issues is the container royalties paid to union workers for the handling of large containers. The royalties were included as a compromise in the 1960s when new steel containers made unloading ships more efficient, but cut into the wages of workers. Shipping companies want to cap the royalty fees at 2011 levels, saying they have grown into a large expense. However, the ILA opposes what it considers a pay cut for employees. The union also accuses the Maritime Alliance of trying to phase out the royalties in the long term.
The Longshoremen’s Local 1422 in Charleston is watching it all very closely. After talks between the two sides in Washington, DC broke down on December 21, ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley said the rank-and-file were in strike preparation mode. Meanwhile, the South Carolina State Ports Authority began preparing for a possible shutdown that would have begun Sunday. The Ports Authority extended its operating hours this past week and originally planned to be open to ships on Saturday.
In an email to shipping companies Friday, the Ports Authority said it would go back to its normal schedule beginning December 29, limiting Saturday to truck traffic only.
The new deadline for reaching an agreement is January 28.
Sheree Bernardi of Charleston affiliate WTMA contributed to this report