After prolonged negotiations, the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance have agreed on a Master Contract covering ports from Maine to Texas, including the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The negotiation process made headlines when it required two extensions and the participation of federal mediators. During the process, various media speculated on the possibility of a shutdown at one or more ports within the affected jurisdiction.

But on March 13, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen issued a statement from Washington D.C.:

“I am extremely pleased to announce that today the parties have approved their tentative agreement for a successor Master Agreement … This monumental result, which will be submitted to [each institution’s] respective memberships for ratification, paves the way for six years of stable labour-management relations covering all the Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. What this means in real life terms is that once again collective bargaining proved up to the task and played a major constructive role in helping to avoid a potential disruption that unquestionably would have had severe impact on the nation’s economy – at the precise time that a significant recovery is in progress.”

A pivotal part of securing an overall deal fell into place when the ILA and the New York Shipping Association reached a tentative agreement on a local contract addressing work rules and other issues for the 3,250 ILA workers at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The local port negotiation made milestone changes that New York Shipping Association President Joseph Curto said, “will allow us to begin an evolutionary progression of meaningful change that will improve the process for working ships, hiring labour, and paying key staff persons.”

While full details are not yet available, port insiders say the new contract will create a relief gang shift work system, provide increased worker pension benefits, and lay the groundwork for a more productive port.

The new, tentative contract goes to ILA’s 14,500 members and to members of the United States Maritime Alliance for ratification. The Master Contract must also be approved by the container carriers, terminal operators, and port associations that make up USMX’s membership.

Highlights of the proposed Master Contract include:

• a six-year term for all agreements, set to expire in 2018;

• a $1-an-hour wage increase for ILA members in 2014, 2016, and again in 2017 (the contract’s final year);

• a $1-an-hour increase in the contribution by employers to local fringe benefit funds, which include pension plans;

• an agreement to protect the jobs of workers displaced by the introduction of new technology and automation at the ports;

• a provision to promote continued ILA jurisdiction over chassis maintenance and repair work within the marine terminals and port areas covered by the contract;

• a provision that starting pay for new employees will stay at $20 an hour, but they would reach the top wage scale in six years instead of the current nine;

• a provision that carriers will fund annual container royalty payments at $211 million, the amount paid in 2011, plus up to an additional $14 million for administrative expenses, while sharing equally with the ILA in any container royalties that exceed $225 million.

The ratification process will conclude in two stages. The union’s general membership will vote on April 9, followed by a full employer vote on or about April 17. Once ratified by all parties, the proposed Master Contract will replace the agreement that technically expired on Sept. 30, 2012.

Said ILA President Harold Daggett: “Our ILA Wage Scale delegates have achieved a great contract for the rank-and-file members we represent … Our union worked hard for over a year to bring home a landmark agreement that I am sure our members will ratify.”

Said USMX Chairman and CEO James A. Capo: “We’re obviously pleased we were able to reach an agreement with the ILA and now look forward to the final ratification votes and completion of local bargaining … Given the industry’s essential role in the U.S. economy, it’s vitally important that we’ve resolved our differences and have come to an agreement, preventing any disruption of port operations.”