Longshoremen, Managers Have Widely Different Views of Truth

Jim Burns | Senior Staff Writer | Thursday, October 10, 2002

Longshoremen, Managers Have Widely Different Views of Truth

(CNSNews.com) - It's no surprise that the West Coast port labor dispute between shippers and union workers revolves around money, but it is unusual to see such a wide gap existing between what the two sides claim is the truth.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping companies, insists the average longshoreman currently earns nearly $107,000 a year and full-time marine clerks earn an average of more than $128,000. Furthermore, the PMA says its latest contract offer calls for longshoremen to eventually earn $114,500 and marine clerks $137,500.

However, one longshoreman, who did not want to be identified, told CNSNews.com he would have to work two years in order to make $125,000. The ILWU said a vast majority of longshoremen fall into that category.

"The basic wage is $27.68 an hour. Now you multiply that by 2,000 hours, which is what is considered full-time work and you come out to like $55,000," said Steve Stallone, ILWU spokesman in an interview with CNSNews.com.

"To get the kinds of pay that they are talking about, you would have to put in three to 4,000 hours. There are premiums if you work the night shift but the vast majority of longshore workers are paid that basic wage. Some are paid more like crane drivers and some of the clerks but the vast majority of workers are being paid the base wage," said Stallone.

Stallone also thinks PMA "throws numbers all around" when it comes to salaries.

"Two-thirds of the people who work on the docks do not work full-time because it's a casual industry. You work when a ship is in and you don't work when a ship is not in," said Stallone.

PMA accused the union of spreading a "myth" that shipping companies were going to cut pensions for union workers. The maritime association says its plan would provide pay increases for all employees as well as an "early retirement incentive window" for clerks affected by technological changes.

"The pension proposal would increase the maximum annual benefit to $40,740. This is a lifetime benefit, and comes in addition to the employer contribution to the 401(k) plan offered by PMA. It is important to note that federal law prohibits a reduction in accrued pension benefits," the PMA stated.

Stallone denied anyone from the union had accused the shipping companies of trying to cut worker pensions. "What we've said is that they were not giving anything but very minimal increases in the pensions," Stallone said.

"They are going to leave the current retirees and widows out of increases. This is something we have always done before because people have left the industry at rates of pay that you can't live on anymore," he said.

As shipping companies contemplate how to upgrade the technology used in their businesses, they are running into stiff resistance from the longshoremen's union. The issue is among the most contentious in the contract talks.

"The union's technology proposal provides for manning quotas that actually increase the number of clerks on the job. It also expands union jurisdiction to give the union jobs currently performed by management, thereby increasing costs. The union proposed a dispute resolution process that would essentially create a filibuster mechanism to keep technology from being implemented," according to the PMA.

Stallone responded by claiming the "PMA has a brilliant way of saying that black is white. They just flat out lie sometimes," he said.

Longshoremen along America's West Coast were returning to work Wednesday after U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup granted President Bush an injunction under provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act to end the 10-day PMA lockout. PMA officials in San Francisco estimated that it could take up to six to seven weeks to unload the backlogged cargo.

Some 200 ships carrying everything from auto parts to plastic toys to frozen food were sitting lined up off West Coast ports waiting to take on or unload cargo held up by the labor dispute.

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