Dockworkers on the East and Gulf coasts will receive their first wage increases in four years -- boosting their hourly pay to $22 by 1994 -- under the terms of a tentative contract agreement reached this week.
The agreement also calls for cuts in the size of work crews and clearer definitions of jurisdiction. It opens the possibility of more flexible work schedules -- accommodating such things as midnight ship arrivals and after-hours delivery of cargo to terminals.
The agreement, between the International Longshoremen's Association and various employer groups, will not become official in each port until bargainers come to terms on local contract issues and it is ratified in membership votes.
The existing contract expires at midnight on Nov. 30. The new one, if adopted, will expire Sept. 30, 1994.
The benefits of the nearly four-year-long pact will depend heavily on the outcome of the local talks. Issues such as flexible work schedules, for example, are left almost entirely up to local negotiations.
National bargainers, after marathon sessions in Hollywood and Miami Beach, Fla., reached the tentative pact Tuesday night. The ILA represents about 65,000 members in 36 East and Gulf coast ports from Maine to Texas. There are about 2,000 members in Baltimore.
"It's good news that we have a contract...Now we can get back to local talks," said David Bindler, chairman of the local management committee, the Steamship Trade Association, and regional head of Maersk Inc., a major ship line at the port. He said local talks will probably resume next week.
"It's broadened the ground rules as far aw work rules goes and allows for more flexible starting times," Bindler said. If an agreement can be reached on scheduling, it could add greatly to productivity at the port, he said.
Edward Burke, president of ILA Local 333, the largest at the port, said, "We always want more but we will have to wait and see how the local talks turn out and see the whole package."
Wages, now $18 an hour for most workers, will rise $1 on Dec. 1 and $1 on Oct. 1 of each of the following three years. Pension and welfare benefit contributions will rise 90 cents over the lifetime of the pact, on the current $7.15 an hour. Dockworker wages have not gone up since 1986, the final year of a contract settled in 1983.
The union initially sought $1-a-year raises over a three-year pact. Management's opening proposal, issued on Sept. 12, offered a wage freeze the first year, a 40-cent increase the second year, and a 60-cent raise the third year.
By comparison, dockworkers on the West Coast, represented by the rival International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, earn $21 an hour under a three-year contract settled earlier this year. By the end of the pact, they will earn $22.48.
East and Gulf Coast management, seeking to increase productivity, won a reduction of two workers in the 20-person crews that load and unload ships. One position will be lost in the first year of the pact, and the other will go in the third year. Management initially sought to reduce the crews to 14 people, including all auxiliary workers.
In Baltimore, the size of the crews, called "gangs" on the waterfront, was a hotly contested issue in last year's local contract talks. Members of Local 333 rejected a contract extension last October, instead fighting for and winning the inclusion of three "utility workers" assigned to each crew.
Many ports have auxiliary workers assigned to the crews, often of up to seven workers, making Baltimore's among the smallest "gangs" in the country.
The contract also provides for some staggering of the starting times of terminal workers, if local labor and management bargainers can agree. This would allow cargo to be delivered and picked up at terminals before and after the standard, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Under the current contract, any work performed outside of the standard day shift is at overtime rates.
The pact also provides for a midnight to 7 a.m. shift to load and unload ships, if local bargainers can agree on the terms. The current contract does not prohibit such schedules, but only a handful of ports, such as Philadelphia and Houston, now have them. Members at Hampton Roads, Va., rejected the idea in a special vote this year.
The national contract also contained a significant provision governing the repair of standardized shipping containers.
Horace Davis, president of ILA Local 1429, said his members have lost some of this work to non-union operations over the years. The new contract should bring some of this back, resulting in as many 40 more jobs, he said.
"All in all, if we're able to enforce the contract, I'm fairly confident that this is the best contract for Local 1429 on the master level since I've been around," Davis said.