Longshore union leaders meeting in San Francisco this week are mulling over the shipping industry's latest contract proposal, which would eliminate several hundred union clerical jobs at Western ports but cushion the blow with early-retirement packages and job guarantees.
Joe Miniace, president of the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents major ocean carriers and stevedoring companies, said he was "pretty confident we'll get an agreement" based on the offer made Sunday night.
"This proposal is as good or better than any other union contract across the country," he said Monday in a call with reporters.
However, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents about 10,500 dockworkers on the Pacific Coast, was skeptical. The union's main worry is that employers will use computer technology to move union clerical jobs to lower-paid nonunion contractors.
Such jurisdictional issues appear to be the main obstacle to reaching an agreement.
Representatives of ILWU locals along the coast are meeting this week for a long-planned caucus. Union spokesman Steve Stallone said the leaders would review the offer but were unlikely to take a vote on it because of concerns over jurisdiction. He said the union may negotiate further next week. "The door is still open," he said.
The PMA agreed to maintain full health benefits for union members and raise wages about 17% over the five-year contract, Miniace said. Longshore wages on average range from $80,000 to $120,000 a year, including overtime.
The PMA also would guarantee full-time salaries to all registered union clerks, even if no work is available, Miniace said. That could result in more than 250 union members being paid for not working in 2005, with the number dropping in later years as cargo volume grows, he said.
With a projected increase in port traffic, the overall number of union jobs would drop only slightly in the short term, even with the loss of some clerical jobs, according to the PMA.
The negotiations, now in their third month, are being closely watched by the nation's retailers and manufacturers, who depend on the ports to move merchandise to and from Asia. The current contract was due to expire July 1, but both parties have been extending it on a daily basis during negotiations.