ILA and Employers Confident as Master Labor Contract Talks Set to Begin

port of New York
Master contract negotiations are expected to begin later this month for the ILA dockworkers agreement due to expire Sept. 30 (file photo)

Published May 13, 2024 7:36 PM by The Maritime Executive


The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) issued the first joint statement on the upcoming contract negotiations expressing confidence that the process is proceeding on plan. This comes as there have already been calls for federal intervention to shepherd the talks for the contract that is set to expire on September 30.

The contract covers at least 45,000 dockworkers along the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf Coast ports. The union claims a total membership of 85,000 members with its reach extending to the Great Lakes ports, inland river ports, and south the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

“We are confident that with tentative local contracts negotiations scheduled completed by the May 17th deadline, the ILA and USMX can begin full Master Contract talks with the goal of reaching an agreement on a new pact before the September 30, 2024, expiration of the current contract,” said ILA President Harold J. Daggett and USMX Chairman/CEO David F. Adam, in a joint statement.  

Daggett has already spoken of the possibility of a strike while making it clear that he would stand firm against port automation. The ILA last summer kicked off the process calling for a “generous contract package.” Observers at the time said they believed the union was targeting a similar increase to the more than 30 percent achieved by the West Coast International Longshore Workers Union. ILA leadership highlighted in July 2023 that the Great Lakes District of the union had secured a 40 percent increase in wages and benefits for its new six-year contract.

The union has set the end of this week as the tentative deadline for all its locals to complete negotiations. The idea was to resolve those issues so that they could begin work on the master contract without last-minute delays on local issues. 

In addition to a strong stance against automation that would cost jobs, the union is likely to be looking for significant pay increases. They will also protect what they have called a “premier” health care plan for members.

Business and industry fear a similar situation to the 2023 unofficial slowdowns and disruptions at West Coast ports as those talks dragged on for 13 months. ILA leadership as early as last summer told its members to prepare early for a strike saying it would not go past the September 30, 2024, deadline.

Six years ago in 2018, the ILA and USMX reached tentative terms in June 2018 well ahead of the expiration. Final ratification took place in early September with a signing ceremony four days before the end of the contract. Both sides are saying they are confident they can have the same success as in 2012 and again in 2018 where a contract agreement was reached without any disruption or delays at the ports. In 2018, the union called the agreement a landmark for members while the employers said the outcome was fair and equitable.

Trade groups have been looking for signs of progress on the contract with the National Retail Federation expressing its concerns over the impact of any uncertainties. As early as March of this year, the American Apparel & Footwear Association flagged the talks calling for the Biden administration to monitor progress and shepherd it to a satisfactory conclusion. Analysts however have noted that the expiration comes just weeks before the U.S. presidential election speculating that the union would not want to unduly influence the outcome with a strike.