The Right Opinion

What the Looming Port Strike Is Really About

By Michelle Malkin · Dec. 21, 2012

It's not about jobs. It's not about safety. It's not about improving dockworkers' living standards. The looming, long-planned East and Gulf Coast port strikes are about protecting Big Labor's archaic work practices and corrupt waterfront rackets.

Are you ready for a fiscal cliff? The union bosses of an estimated 14,500 workers at 15 ports are preparing to send the economy plunging back into recession over productivity and efficiency rules changes. You read that right. Much more on that in a moment. But first, here's what's at stake.

The International Longshoremen's Association's (ILA) grip extends from Boston to Texas to Florida and all points across the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The New York-New Jersey ports – which handle cargo valued at $208 billion – could come to a standstill. National Retail Federation executive Jonathan Gold issued a desperate statement: “The last thing the economy needs right now is another strike, which would impact all international trade and commerce at the nation's East and Gulf Coast container ports. This is truly a 'container cliff' in the making.”

Retailers have begged Big Labor-lovin' President Obama to intervene. Good luck with that. The cozy White House powwow with union bosses immediately after Election Day tells you all you need to know about which side Obama champions.

The United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), which represents 14 Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, has been bracing for a union-spearheaded shutdown since the summer, when labor negotiations fell apart. The ILA's current contract expired on Sept. 30. Federal mediators granted a 90-day extension that ends on Dec. 29. ILA President Harold Daggett won a unanimous green light earlier this month to call a strike if industry leaders don't give in completely to the union's demands. According to my sources, despite overwhelming industry concessions on wages and benefits, port watchers view the likelihood of a strike at “probably 70 to 85 percent now.”

Don't believe the union sob stories. ILA members are among the highest paid union workers in the country. Starting pay for dockworkers is $20 an hour, with a top straight-time pay rate of $32 an hour. Longevity and overtime bonuses are generous, with ILA members earning an average of more than $124,000 a year in wages and benefits.

The sticking points of the heated ILA-USMX talks are “container royalties” (a fee per ton of containerized cargo that carriers pay to ILA members) and “customs and practice.” On the New York-New Jersey waterfront, union racketeers have turned archaic work rules into a corrupt system of patronage tied to organized crime. Reporter Carl Horowitz of the National Legal and Policy Center broke down the container royalty dispute this fall: “In 2011 these royalties amounted to $232 million or about $15,500 per worker at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. This arrangement was established in 1960 when New York Longshoremen sought to protect themselves against job losses resulting from the introduction of automated cargo container weighing. It's been a ticket for inefficiency.”

In other words, it's a ridiculously outdated surcharge on business to cushion the blow of modernity to workers. Unions, of course, siphon off a large chunk of the royalties – more than $20 million last year alone, according to the Supply Chain Digest. The trade publication points out that “ILA workers receiving those hefty checks today have no real connection to the perceived threat from container traffic to manually loaded freight and handling work that started the whole program in the 1960s.”

USMX hasn't even called for eliminating the outdated fees. It just wants to cap them. Under the industry's contract proposal, ILA's average hourly rate would increase to more than $55, including overtime and container royalty. Workers would still not be required to pay premiums on their health care plans like most private employers now require their workers to do.

But the union won't budge, and it is screaming bloody murder over attempts to rein in other inefficiencies.

The additional “customs and practice” that the ILA seeks to preserve are a recipe for corruption. Don't take industry's word for it. This was the conclusion this year of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. Decades of favoritism, nepotism and Mafia-friendly hiring practices have bred inefficient and criminal conditions that benefit “a privileged few.” The union protects no-show and no-work jobs, 24-hour paid work for 8-hour-a-day-or-less clerks, and unlimited paid vacation for shop stewards. ILA has demanded that multiple crane operators be paid for the work of a single operator. And the commission's hearings exposed ILA bosses tied to mobsters and family members being paid more than $400,000 a year for up to 27 hours a day.

Union bosses and their Occupy Wall Street henchmen will be ratcheting up their rhetoric about “greed” and “fat cats” as they move to ring in the New Year by bringing the American economy to its knees. Now you know the rest of the story.

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8 Comments

fred in oregon said:

in the early 1980s, i was an owner/operater of a truck/trailer combinstion--flatbed work. every now and then id have to take a load to the port of longview,washington state. those lazy b-----ds at 10.30 am left for a 2 hour lunch. they left one { 1 } lift on my trailer. for 2 hours, while i sat there able to do nothing about it. that wait period cost me my next load, which was given to a different trucker. the longshore union workers? are by far and away the laziest people ive ever met. and they are paid substancial money for doing almost nothing. they have the same mentallity as welfare people near as i can tell. disquesting and unamerican.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 9:06 AM

Ct-Tom in NC replied:

I had similar experiences back in the '60's when it was exactly as Fred describes it.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Anton D Rehling in Olympia, WA replied:

My wife’s entire family is Longshoremen and I can say without a doubt, they are the most over paid and under work group I have ever known. No matter what happens when break comes or lunch all activity comes to a screeching halt. They work 4 hour and are paid for 8 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:10 PM

STEVE HOUGH in Glendale replied:

They spend at least an hour a shift in the john! Postal workers are pretty much the same!

Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 10:18 PM

Patriot Pat in in Pacifica said:

As usual, MM is right on! Brilliant, as only she can be! Having been a former union member in a heavily-unionized area, I know from whence I speak. Time was, many years ago, unions were important in the work force. Unfortunately, money, power and greed have taken over. That is a formula for disaster, which we are now seeing. It might be too late to correct. Da horse is outta da barn. Few if any can - or will get it back!

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

When have the greedy unions ever cared about how their actions affected the economy? They would rather see the economy tank than do what is best for the country. I'm like Mac, when the idiots go on strike, advertise for workers and replace them. If the NLRB tells the ports you can't do that then close the damn ports down. See how long it takes for either the Odumbo administration or Congress to realize the country can't function without the goods coming in and going out of the ports. Fight fire with fire! It's long past time to stand up to these union idiots and stop letting them get away with their BS.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 1:37 PM

JJ in WV said:

If they go out on strike - then there will less union money for the democrats to scarf up. Let them go on-strike.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

The militant portion of Unions are pure Marx/Engels=Obongo.They demand 8 hours pay for 2 to 3 hours of labor. The Sephardic Center, on Avenue S, hired NON-UNION companies, to raise their building, and they received the Lion's share of labor. Good for them! The bulk of the steelwork was done on Thanksgiving Day-1998!

Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 7:01 AM