The International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO, (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance, Ltd. (USMX) reported that they have made significant progress in their negotiations, resolving a number of key issues toward reaching agreement on a new contract.

Concluding three days of scheduled negotiations, the two sides announced an agreement in principle on issues involving the introduction of new technology and automation and maintenance and repair of chassis within marine terminals and at off-pier facilities at the East and Gulf Coast ports. The two sides agreed the ILA would fill any new jobs created by technology, and to establish a process under which any ILA workers displaced by technology will be eligible for limited pay guarantees. The agreement on chassis addresses ILA concerns about job losses from ocean carriers’ shift of chassis fleets to leasing companies not covered by the union’s contract. Major leasing companies that already have taken over carrier chassis have promised to continue to hire ILA labour and respect the union’s existing work jurisdiction. The new agreement would require future acquirers of chassis to pledge in purchase agreements to continue to hire ILA labour that now performs the work. An estimated one-third of international intermodal chassis are still owned by ocean carriers.

“We had a productive session in Florida,” ILA President Harold J. Daggett and USMX Chairman and CEO James A. Capo said in a joint statement. “We’re pleased that we were able to resolve some important issues and look forward to continuing bargaining to reach agreement on the remaining issues in the current negotiations.”

“The East and Gulf Coasts ports are crucial to the health of the nation’s economy and we take seriously our responsibility to reach an agreement without any disruption in the supply chain and operation of the 14 ports,” they said.

Since 1977, the two sides have successfully negotiated nine new Master Contracts without any disruptions in operations. The current contract, which expires September 30, took effect in 2004 and was extended for two years in 2010. Current negotiations are aimed at concluding another six-year deal. Many shippers have said that if talks did not show progress, they would make plans to begin accelerating shipments or diverting cargo to the West Coast.

USMX represents employers of the East and Gulf Coast longshore industry, including 24 container carrier members, including the 10 largest carriers worldwide, and every major marine terminal operator and port association on the East and Gulf Coasts.

The ILA represents 15,000 members working at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports from Maine to Texas.