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Retailers prepare for possible ports strike next month

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The local was supposed to have negotiations this week, but those were canceled, he said.

In 2011, the New York-New Jersey ports handled cargo valued at $208 billion, up 18 percent over 2010, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

James Capo, head of the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents container carriers and port operators in the negotiations, has accused the union of taking advantage of loose overtime rules to make the New York-New Jersey ports the most expensive in the world. The alliance claims one-third of ILA workers there make more than $200,000 per year, not counting bonuses.

Those bonuses include container royalties that were negotiated in the 1960s to protect workers from job losses due to automation but now serve as a guaranteed payment of more than $15,000 annually for East Coast workers, the alliance contends.

"Over the years, we've got a number of inefficient work rules and practices that have crept into the operation and need to be addressed," Capo said. "It drives our costs up and makes us noncompetitive."

McNamara accused the alliance of cherry-picking numbers and focusing only on a small minority of highly paid employees. He said the container royalties serve a valuable purpose by defraying benefits costs for union members in smaller ports, such as New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla.

"Up until last Wednesday, we thought we were very close," McNamara said of the negotiations. "Then they came in with a very hardline stance all of a sudden, and that resulted in the two sides as being very far apart."

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