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Is a nationwide port strike next?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 10, 2012 12:37 PM

Who’s next? Chicago public school teachers walked off the job today, leaving 350,000 children and their families in the lurch. Close behind, an East Coast and Gulf Coast port shut down could soon follow — wreaking havoc on U.S. retailers and costing American businesses billions in lost revenue and trade. An estimated 14,500 union workers at 14 ports are prepared to tip the economy back into recession over productivity and efficiency rules changes.

Yes, really:

According to the Journal of Commerce, attempts to negotiate a new six-year contract bogged down over management’s insistence on productivity and efficiency improvements, especially at the Port of New York and New Jersey, which U.S. Maritime Association chairman and CEO James Capo said has become the most expensive in the group. Capo said he was “disappointed with the uncompromising stand the ILA leadership is taking in the negotiations” by defending what he called “archaic” practices, such as New York-New Jersey work rules that provide round-the-clock pay for a few hours’ work.

Also at issue: Container royalties paid to union members that have morphed into a corrupt system of patronage tied to organized crime. Via NLPC’s Carl Horowitz:

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. The USMX web site reads: “The initial reason for implementing container royalties…has long been forgotten. Today, thousands of workers who were not even born in 1960 – or in 1968 when container royalties were first distributed – continue to receive payments.” The employer group wants to cap royalty payments, not roll them back or eliminate them. ILA President Daggett is adamant about maintaining the system. His union is demanding that carriers pay all royalty fees. “I want a scale on every pier,” he said. Daggett also stated that if an ILA local discovers a shipping container exceeds highway weight limits, the union will insist that the trucks be prevented from leaving the port and that the containers should be emptied and reloaded into other containers. “If they want to play games,” he said, “we’ll play games.”

Even if the container royalty system were scrapped, there are still numerous work rules that hamper productivity and invite participation by organized criminals. A special report issued this past March by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to the governors and legislatures of New York and New Jersey shows how these rules have evolved from a deeply ingrained and corrupt patronage system. Based on extensive public hearings conducted during October 14-December 2, 2010, the commission concluded:

Certain hiring practices, achieved primarily through calculated provisions of collective bargaining agreements, illogical interpretations of other provisions, and claims of “customs and practice,” have created with the Port (of New York & New Jersey) no/low-work, no/low-show positions generally characterized by outsized salaries. The privileged few that are given these jobs are overwhelmingly connected to organized crime figures or union leadership.

Among abuses, the report cited policies forcing shipping companies to pay salaries exceeding $400,000 for jobs that “require little or no work.” In addition, dockworkers work in much bigger groups (or “gangs”) than needed. This explains why three dockworkers are paid to operate a crane that only one person can operate at a time. Even more absurd, work rules are structured so that workers can be paid for 24, even 27 hours of work in a given day, even if the actual work they do amounts to only eight hours and sometimes far less.

Think the Mafia no longer casts a shadow upon this union? Think again. The commission revealed the ILA has put a good number of relatives of organized crime figures on the payroll – and has rewarded them generously. The spirit of the late godfather of the Genovese crime family, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, for one, lives here. One of Gigante’s nephews, Ralph Gigante, is a shop steward for an ILA local, which provides him with an annual income of at least $400,000. And two of Gigante’s sons-in-law, Joseph Colonna and Robert Fyfe Jr., serve as stewards in the same union. Colonna’s predecessor, John Bullaro, was the Chin’s brother-in-law. In all, the late Genovese boss has nine relatives working for the union.

The sum of these archaic rules, to say nothing of mob influence, says USMX’s Capo, has cost port operators billions of dollars.

The workers’ contract expires Sept. 30. Background on the breakdown, and on port union workers’ wages and benefits:

The ILA and USMX re-engaged with their on-again, off-again negotiations in Florida in late July as both sides at that time claimed to their respective members that there had been “significant discussions” on “critical items of importance” and that “substantial progress” had been made over what each have referenced publically as the central issues that include terminal automation, chassis pools, wages, and benefits.

In the USMX’s latest statement regarding the broken-off negotiations, the employer group referred to ILA workers being “among the most highly compensated workers in the country, on average receiving $124,138 a year in wages and benefits, which puts them ahead of all but 2 percent of all U.S. workers.”

“[ILA members] earn an average hourly wage of $50, more than double the $23.19 average for all U.S. union workers. They also pay no premiums and minimal co-pays and deductibles for a healthcare plan that is better than most U.S. employers provide their workers,” the USMX statement said.

“At the Port of New York and New Jersey, 34 ILA members make over $368,000 a year in wages and benefits; one of every three makes over $208,000 a year – not including annual bonuses based on the weight of container cargo. These ‘container royalties’ totaled $232 million in 2011 – or an average of $15,500 for ILA workers on the East and Gulf coasts,” the employer group said.

Remember, this is how the Occupy protests originally kicked off. Not on Wall Street. But at the ports. Chaos, not work, is the progressive Luddites’ goal. Power and protectionism are what they covet. And Occupy is standing by to help foment and agitate.

Flashback December 2011:

Port Whine: Big Labor’s Occu-punks
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2011

Scruffy progressive protesters locked themselves together across railroad tracks, blocked traffic and shouted profanities at police on Tuesday in a coordinated “West Coast Port Shutdown.” Truckers lost wages. Shippers lost business. This is what the Occupy Wall Street movement calls “victory.”

Aging Big Labor bosses toasted one another from the sidelines as they declared the “rebirth of the labor movement.” What’s really going on? It’s an old-school power grab by a decrepit union wrapped in self-deluded social media do-goodism.

Peace-loving agitators wielding guitars and iPhones may earnestly believe they stood up to corruption and stood up for workers this week. A socialist website promoted the port shutdown as an expression of “solidarity” for the workers’ “struggle.” One Oakland, Calif., agitator decried “exploitation by capitalism” as the shiftless busily divided their work blockages into what they called — chortle — “shifts.”

In reality, it’s the young Occupiers who are being exploited as human shields for the economy-strangling agenda of the violence-prone International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). These ignorant punks are putting the “front” in “waterfront.”

Few remember now that the left’s three-month-long “Day of Rage” festivities kicked off in September at the Port of Longview, Wash. — a far cry from Goldman Sachs and the rest of New York’s financial district. Unionized longshoremen stormed the port there and took a half-dozen guards hostage. They damaged railroad cars, dumped grain, smashed windows, cut rail brake lines and blocked a train for hours while the ILWU and AFL-CIO cheered them on.

The violence followed a similar outburst in July, when longshoremen tore down a chain link fence on EGT’s private property and blocked railroad tracks to prevent a grain delivery — a clear violation of the 1946 Hobbs Act, which makes it a crime to employ robbery or extortion to impede interstate commerce.

Despite breaking federal law, violating a judicial restraining order and committing systematically planned sabotage and trespassing, most of the union thugs got away with wrist slaps. The ILWU received a $250,000 fine to cover damages from the vandalism — a fine that will be paid with rank-and-file workers’ hard-earned dues money.

So, what’s their beef? No, it’s not about the “right” of unions to “organize.” It’s not about the welfare of the “99 percent.” It’s about one union losing its seven-decade-old grip on West Coast port operations. It’s about six-figure-salaried union suits at the ILWU, established by bloody radical Marxist Harry Bridges, throwing a lawless tantrum against economic efficiency and technological progress.

The ILWU is trying to break the will of EGT Development, a multinational agribusiness that recently built a $200 million grain terminal in Longview. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with unprecedented automation features that will speed unloading, increase shipping capacity and bring in tens of millions of dollars in lease and tax payments alone to the region.

EGT needs a nimble 21st-century workforce. The entitled overlords of the ILWU, who have ruled West Coast ports since the 1930s, are demanding a monopoly on the company’s master control system, control over the work hour structure, excessive mandatory breaks and extortionist man-hour “premiums” to bail out the union’s underfunded pension. “We’ve worked these elevators since 1934, and we’ve always been in that master console,” local ILWU President Dan Coffman told public radio.

EGT refused and instead brought in an outside contractor with a different union to fill about 50 jobs. But the ILWU water-carriers in the Occupy movement don’t care about those workers. Or the American farmers who have been hurt by the port saboteurs. Or the independent non-union truckers who were forced to forgo work in the name of worker empowerment. Trucker Hai Ngo of San Leandro, Calif., told the San Francisco Chronicle: “The Occupy people handed out flyers to us, but never asked what we thought before they planned this. I will lose about $350, and at holiday time that hurts. It’s just a waste of our time and money, and won’t accomplish anything.”

Unfortunately, Ngo and blue-collar workers like him are collateral damage in the ILWU’s ruthless battle for Big Labor survival. Coffman, who has stoked violence for months, vowed earlier this year that “we will fight to the end to secure what is rightfully our turf.”

And now the gasping longshoremen’s union has a whole new set of Occu-tools to do the dirty work for them.

***

Previous:

Your guide to D12: Occupiers return to ports for West Coast shutdown; Updated: Back again tomorrow; ILWU official crows “rebirth of the labor movement”

Live from Occupy Oakland: Window smashing, vandalism, and more; charter buses to port, Teamsters in the house; port shut down, trucks overrun; Update: Tear gas, riot police, fire, firecrackers at midnight Pacific time

Union thug alert: Day of Rage festivities start early in Longview WA; Update – Video added; cut brake lines, smashed windows, dumped grain, took hostages; UPDATE: Spreads to Tacoma, Seattle

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