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ILA rank-and-file ratify six-year contract, ending year-long battle with ship management

Pact calls for $3 an hour wage hikes; maintains royalty-payment formula.

The International Longshoreman’s Association’s (ILA) 14,500 rank-and-file members late Tuesday overwhelmingly ratified a six-year master contract covering 14 East and Gulf Coast seaports. The agreement ended more than a year of contentious negotiations that threatened to shut port operations from Maine to Texas for the first time since 1977.

Final tallies had not been released by press time, but it was reported that ILA members at the Port of New York and New Jersey, the union’s largest stronghold, had ratified the master agreement by a 5-to-1 margin. They had also ratified a supplemental local agreement with the New York Shipping Association, which represents management on the New York-New Jersey docks, by a 3-to-1 margin.

The rank-and-file vote came less than a month after a tentative agreement was reached between negotiators for the ILA and the United States Maritime Alliance Ltd. (USMX), which represents 24 containership lines and all major terminal operators and port authorities on the East and Gulf coasts.

The contract increases the ILA’s hourly pay from $32 to $35 an hour over its six-year life. Employers will contribute an additional $1 an hour to local pensions. The ILA will retain exclusive jurisdiction over truck chassis maintenance and repairs performed at the ports.

Annual container royalties on tonnage will be fixed at the 2011 level of $211 million a year and an additional $14 million annually will be spent on administration. Royalties above $225 million a year will be divided between the ILA and USMX. Royalty payments averaged $15,500 in 2011 for each ILA member working at the 14 ports, according to management.

Management had sought to change the royalty formula, which was established in 1960 to protect union workers in New York from job losses due to containerization and cargo automation practices. However, union leaders were adamant that no change should be made in the program.

Along with the master contract, nearly all of the local agreements were ratified as well, the ILA said in a statement. Members at the Ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Hampton Roads, Va., which have yet to ratify their local agreements, have been allowed to continue bargaining into next week. USMX members will vote to ratify the master contract on April 17.

Talks began on March 30, 2012, with the goal of reaching a new agreement prior to the existing pact’s Sept. 30 expiration date. However, negotiations hit several impasses, resulting in three separate contract extensions between September and February to keep the ports operating.

“On behalf of ILA members and officers at all ports, we’re thrilled this master contract was ratified by an overwhelming margin,” said ILA President Harold J. Daggett, who served as the union’s chief negotiator, in a statement issued late Tuesday. “We all worked very hard, achieved landmark improvements, and protected our members and our union for many years.”