Approval Anticipated as Dockworkers Vote on Labor Pact

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

Eight months after contentious negotiations were launched, West Coast port workers and officials of shipping companies expect a new six-year contract to be accepted by union members when the votes are counted this week.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union cast their ballots on the pact Jan. 6-13 after 92 percent of the union's 80-delegate caucus last month recommended the contract with the Pacific Maritime Association be ratified.

It includes a $3 increase in dockworkers' $27.68 per hour base pay through 2008, an increase in pension benefits to $63,000 per year for 35-year employees and an average of $42,000 in health benefits per worker.

Tentative agreement on the pact was reached in November following six months of talks and a 10-day closure of West Coast ports after management accused union members of staging work slowdowns.

The most contentious issue in the contract is an agreement by the union to allow shipping companies to implement technology to speed the cargo unloading process. The agreement will result in the elimination of 400 maritime clerks' positions throughout the West Coast.

Clerks represent only 18 percent of the ILWU's 10,500-person membership and neither side expects the contingent to muster enough votes to nullify the agreement, which requires a majority vote in each of the union's 10 units. If one of the units fails to approve the contract, then 60 percent of the overall membership is required for ratification.

"I wouldn't be surprised if one unit voted it down," said Robin Lanier, executive director of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, a trade group for shippers. "But I would be astounded if the union cannot muster the 60 percent support from the rank and file."

In 1996, the union's contract was overwhelmingly rejected by the L.A.-Long Beach and Bay Area locals, which forced a second vote. That vote barely ratified the pact with 62 percent approval.

"No predictions coming from here," said Steve Stallone, the ILWU's communications manager, concerning the current vote. "The members will speak and we'll count the votes. That's all."

The PMA, which represents 87 ship, terminal and stevedore companies, already has begun to update its payment system to include the hikes in pay and benefits that would take effect Feb. 1.

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