ILA Leadership Warns US East Coast Dockworkers to Prepare for 2024 Strike

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The leadership of the U.S.’s International Longshoremen’s Association, the union representing dockworkers along the East Coast as well as far west as Houston and the Great Lakes, is working to harden its membership for a potential strike in October 2024. While the master contract for some 45,000 of the ILA’s 70,000 members has 10 months left, union leaders began more than a year in advance to talk about the potential of a job action.

During an educational conference this week for members in the South Atlantic region and the Gulf Coast, ILA leadership plans to say “Members should prepare for the possibility of a coast-wide strike in October 2024,” according to a statement issued by the ILA over the weekend. They are reporting that ILA President Harold Daggett will pledge to hold firm while speaking to the ILA officers and members at the conference.

Daggett made the ILA’s position clear during his keynote address at a conference in July to the membership. He said the ILA’s officers are “hammering home” the ILA’s strong opposition to automation while challenging the United States Maritime Alliance which represents the employers and local employer groups to recognize the ILA’s importance and to treat them as equal partners in the negotiations. 

“We will not take a back seat to anyone,” ILA President Daggett said during his July 2023 speech. “It’s time for foreign companies like Maersk and MSC to realize that you need us as much as we need you.”

Daggett is taking an unusual approach to the negotiations to replace the six-year master agreement that expires on September 30, 2024. He instructed the locals to begin negotiations more than a year before the contract’s end saying the ILA wanted to resolve local issues in advance on the master contract negotiations, unlike the West Coast contract talks where local issues contributed to the talks running 13 months. Daggett has repeatedly said there will be no contract extensions beyond the expiration date and if it goes to the wire, the ILA is ready to take to the picket lines. 

The ILA strongly opposes automation and will make it a central theme of the next contract. In the past, they have been critical of their West Coast counterparts for being too lenient on automation. Daggett has frequently highlighted the need to “halt job-killing automation at ports in the U.S. and globally.” During his July speech, he suggested that the ILA would like to lead a global alliance to target and possibly strike shipping lines that are pushing automation efforts.

“If foreign-owned companies like Maersk and MSC try to replace our jobs with automation, they are going to get a painful reminder that longshore workers brought these companies to where they are today,” said Daggett.

The ILA is also calling for a “generous contract package.” Observers believe they are targeting a similar increase to the more than 30 percent achieved by the West Coast International Longshore Workers Union as well as the generous bonus package in their July 2023 contract. During the conference in July, ILA leadership highlighted that the Great Lakes District of the union had already secured a 40 percent increase in wages and benefits for its new six-year contract. 

The ILA has indicated that it will also tighten language in all future contracts to guarantee the protection of its jurisdictions at all ILA ports, including securing all work from new terminals. At the end of October, a small local with the support of the national organization went on strike at the New London State Pier in Connecticut. They are demanding that its members not the Operating Engineers’ union should be operating the equipment to load and unload elements such as wind turbine blades at the port. The local went back to work after a few days but is continuing the jurisdiction dispute insisting it should be an ILA task.

The prospects of an ILA strike are already raising concerns in the shipping communities. Last year’s job actions on the West Coast and by the Canadian union for its West Coast ports had a large impact on trade. The 2024 negotiations come at a time when container carriers are already under strong financial pressures from the collapse in freight rates and volumes. For now, it is a wait-and-watch situation as the ILA and USMX posture for the negotiations ahead of the 2024 contract expiration.

Source: Maritime