Dockworkers ratify new 6-year contract

Dockworkers along the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast have ratified a new six-year contract affecting the Port of New Orleans and 13 other coastal ports that handle about 40 percent of all U.S. container cargo.

The agreement ends nearly a year of negotiations.

The International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO, posted news of the ratification on its website late Tuesday. It said vote totals from its 14,500 longshoremen were still being tallied but that the contract was “overwhelmingly approved.”

The contract between the longshoremen and the U.S. Maritime Alliance originally expired Sept. 30. Federal mediators negotiated extensions to avert possible strikes that could have crippled container shipment operations at major ports along the East Coast and Gulf Mexico.

The Port of Greater Baton Rouge had said previously that a strike would not have affected the local port’s operations. That’s because the Port of Greater Baton Rouge handles primarily bulk cargo and commodities, as do most Louisiana ports.

At the Port of New Orleans, which has substantial container operations, the impact would have been significant.

Gary LaGrange, president and chief executive officer, had said the economic impact of a strike on the greater New Orleans area would have been about $1 million a day, affecting 2,500 workers, including the longshoremen themselves.

The union said the contract includes wage increases totaling $3 an hour spread out over the life of the agreement. By the final year of the new contract, the hourly pay rate will be $35 an hour.

The progressive pay scale for lower-tiered workers also will be shortened to six years from nine years. A new union member earning a base pay of $20 an hour at the start of the new contract will earn $35 an hour by the end of the six years.

Among the job protections won was contract language that “strongly protects” union workers who have been displaced due to new technology and automation, and terms that restrict outsourcing or subcontracting of Longshoremen’s Association jobs to nonunion employers.

No charges will be made to the health care plan.

“We all worked very hard, achieved landmark improvements and protected our members and our union for many years,” ILA President Harold J. Daggett said.

Members of the Maritime Alliance, an alliance of container carriers, direct employers and port associations serving the East and Gulf coasts, will vote to ratify the contract on Wednesday.