Mediation Averts East Coast Dock Strike

The Federal Mediation and Reconciliation Service announced today that a feared East Coast strike has been averted for the near term. The International Brotherhood of Longshoremen, representing dock workers, and port shippers have agreed to a 30-day extension of talks over remaining differences between workers and their bosses. Mediators expressed confidence that a lasting labor accord will be reached shortly.

Actual strikes by workers, or the employer’s “take-it-or-leave-it” counterpart, the “lockout,” are rare. Unions mean the 14,000+ dock workers aren’t forced to try going hat-in-hand alone to bosses to get safe working conditions and fair pay. Federal mediation brings both parties together.

Image: A Cavotec motorized cable reel powers an STS crane at the Port of Oakland.  License: Creative Commons Attribution 

Go to any major seaport city on the coasts, and you can’t miss the towering cranes offloading containers from merchant ships. Look up at how far off the pier those crane operator gondolas are. Could you transfer a huge shipping container from ship to onshore trailer with precision hundreds of times a day? I didn’t think so. Those crane operators do it day after day, with skilled, competent longshoremen. Safely, and efficiently. Union dock workers. Representation provided good wages and safer, fairer workplaces.

The union-haters forget what the job takes. Shippers may have dreams of subsistence-level coolies in conical hats and strong backs, but know dock workers make it happen. A critical cog in the infrastructure of commerce.

We may have lost millions of jobs to low-wage China, but those companies that profit from the earnings differential of workers probably would have a cow if a container ship was being offloaded by a minimum wage WalMartian singing the store song. A laden shipping container loaded with merchandise doing an “oops!” free fall from the crane gantry isn’t going to be stopped by a longshoreman’s hard hat. It’s a hazardous, exacting trade demanding highly skilled workers. Union workers.

American workers deserve more than “race to the bottom” wages and working conditions. Labor unions empower and protect trained American workers beyond their membership rolls.

Remember: most wouldn’t have that cherished weekend and other things we take for granted without labor unions.