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December 28, 2012

As Port Strike Deadline Approaches Obama Pressured To Use Taft-Hartley

Posted in: Uncategorized

Longshoremen, ILWU Local 19, unloading container from the Cap Paliser

UPDATE 1:10PM EST: There has been a 30 day extension to the ILA contract postponing the strike.

The deadline is December 29th. Tomorrow.

At 12:01 am on December 30th 14 ports from Boston to Houston will close as members of the International Longshoremen Association (ILA) covering the the East and Gulf coasts go on strike. At issue is whether Longshoremen will continue to get the per-container royalty payments previously agreed to by management:

The U.S. Maritime Alliance, known as USMX, representing management at the shipping lines, terminals and ports along the East and Gulf Coasts, says it can no longer afford the per-container payments, known as royalties, that go to the unionized workers. It says those payments average $15,500 a year per worker, which takes the total cost of wages and benefits to an average of $124,138 per worker.

The union, which has not gone on strike since 1977, says the wage and benefit estimates being given by USMX are inflated. It vows it won’t consider any changes in the royalties, and will only grant the extension being requested by USMX and the federal mediator if the issue of royalties is taken off the table.

“USMX seems intent on gutting a provision of our master contract that ILA members fought and sacrificed for years to achieve,” said ILA President Harold J. Daggett.

Not surprisingly the business community is outraged by workers wanting to be compensated and is now lobbying President Obama hard to invoke provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act to block the strike. The primary talking point is of course the overall economy would suffer if the ports were shutdown.

From Bloomberg:

The National Retail Federation and Florida Governor Rick Scott have urged Obama to use the law to avoid an eastern port shutdown that they say would cripple an already weak economy.

“The threat to national health and safety that would result from mass closure of the ports cannot be overstated,” Scott, a Republican, wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to Obama. “The Taft-Hartley Act provides your administration with tools that can help avoid this threat.”

Oh, the threat of worker compensation! Or does Scott really mean the threat of unions themselves (he does)? Then again can you trust someone who had to resign from his company due to his firm’s involvement in Medicare Fraud?

Logically, if the shutdown is such an immense threat should not the organizations lobbying Obama now to invoke Taft-Hartley also lobby USMX to pay the workers what they promised? That is also a guaranteed way to end the strike and prevent any damage to the economy.

This is going to be a key test for Obama and his commitment to workers’ rights.

Photo by redyamflan under Creative Commons license

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