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International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) vice president Kenneth Riley has called for a shutdown of US east coast ports in a protest over mounting job losses.
The action, including a march of dockworkers on Washington, will start on 27 February.
This coincides with the first day of the Transpacific Maritime Conference in Long Beach, and comes as union leaders and terminal employers prepare for the next round of master contract negotiations
Mr Riley, who also presides over the ILA Local 1422 Charleston South Carolina, said interference by the South Carolina Port Authority and Waterfront Commission of New York Harbour (WCNY) had resulted in hiring practices that deliberately reduced dockworker numbers.
“Today’s longshore workers are skilled craftsmen who operate expensive and dangerous equipment,” said Mr Riley.
“The work of these dedicated professionals is responsible for much of America’s economic wealth, and we are protesting at the damage to the nation’s economy that is caused by the kind of interference that President Trump promised to stop.”
Mr Riley said the WCNY used a “self-created” system of background checks for workers on the waterfront, which he said resulted in job shortages at the port of New York and New Jersey.
He added that the port suffered from two sets of regulations: the WCNY and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“This overregulation is damaging to one of the nation’s busiest ports and, thus, hundreds of local businesses that depend upon the port to survive, by reducing the number of dock workers and therefore the amount of cargo that could be moved,” he said.
Mr Riley added that overregulation and governmental interference in South Carolina was killing jobs and reducing the value of economic activity at the port of Charleston.
“The South Carolina State Port Authority uses non-ILA members to operate cranes, receive and deliver cargo and perform other terminal work,” he said.
“This kind of government interference is causing unemployment, unskilled and unsafe dock labour and injury to the coastal economy.”
Mr Riley claimed every port region from Maine to Texas had expressed solidarity with the ILA during meetings held with employer association the US Maritime Alliance (USMX) in Florida last week.
“We are asking President Trump to help our members keep working, that more are put to work and to ensure that American jobs are protected,” he said. “We all know that if working conditions decline and jobs are lost in New York, that people like us will be in trouble throughout the country.”
He added that collective bargaining agreements in New York set the standard for the nation and had consistently increased wages, benefits and the standard of living for every working longshoreman.
“It’s really simple: you hurt New York, you interfere with hiring, you’ll start the destruction of every gain made by every longshoreman in the United States,” he said. “That’s how longshoremen throughout the country feel, and they’re angry about it.”
In a separate development, APM Terminals today announced that it would almost treble its investment in Port Elizabeth from $70m to $200m, following talks with Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, shipping companies, importers and exporters, intermodal rail providers, trucking companies and the ILA.
The additional funds will go towards four next-generation ship-to-shore cranes to handle ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) at the US’s second busiest port, with the larger vessels expected to start calling at the port after the heightening of the Bayonne Bridge, which is scheduled to be completed later this year.