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Thursday, March 26, 2015

They're at it again

Posted to Martin Rushmere (by on May 31, 2012

Two unpopular but powerful agencies in ports operations are doing their best to engender permanent hostility from politicians, the public and the maritime community. The pilots in Seattle and San Francisco are arrogantly going where reason dictates otherwise, while the dockworkers are getting restive because, supposedly, the employers are offering less than fair terms for a new contract.

The dockworkers are reckoned to be trying an old tactic of using an obscure and usually fair-minded affiliate to push a bigger agenda. (As one maritime veteran puts it: "That pale masthead light showing through the dark is hiding a 100,000 tonne vessel.) The Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 in Southern California has jumped up from the table during discussions over a new contract.

Call it coincidence, but the general feeling is that this militancy is not unrelated to the spat, now verging on a dispute, on the east coast between the ILA and the employers. Adding to the suspicion is the statement by Bob McEllrath of the ILWU, "“No one should listen to the recent hum of industry executives suggesting they know what dockworkers on the West Coast will or won’t do in support of our East Coast brothers and sisters. The fact is that we have their back in the fight to protect work and jurisdiction; their fight is our fight,”

A two-pronged squeeze has long been touted as the ultimate weapon of the dockworkers. Some carriers apparently have not thought of this, judging by a comment that a Beneficial Cargo Operator made to the Journal of Commerce. "All we're doing now is watching and waiting to see if we need to pull the switch,"   he said, referring to the possibility of re-routing through the West Coast instead.

Pilots on the West Coast are batting pay rises between like a tennis ball. First it was San Francisco, then Seattle and now San Francisco again. In 2011 San Francisco pilots should have been overjoyed to get an extra $58,000 a year, bringing their gross to $451,000. (They have claimed the amount is much less, but the official, audited accounts give the whole game away.)

And they have been asking for more, using the same old arguments. This time they tried a subtle approach, arguing that two pilots would be needed for most of the ships coming into the bay, because modern vessels are so much larger.   State capital Sacramento was having none of this, gauging the public's feelings accurately for a change.

But rest assured, they will be back next year.

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