University report compares power of ILWU, ILA
A California State University, Long Beach report contrasting the evolutions of the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the East Coast-based International Longshoremen's Association says that while the unions' differing strategies in addressing labor demand is a reason for their divergent wage levels, the balance of U.S. trade has also played a major role.
'The ILA has been weakened due to trade balances and the type of freight handled, particularly at Gulf ports,' the report said. 'The largest ports in the U.S. (Los Angeles and Long Beach) grew primarily as a result of increased trade volumes with Asia and the growth of West Coast markets. This naturally gave more power to the ILWU since all-water routes to the East Coast have additional time costs (especially with post-Panamax ships) and the strength of the ILWU makes it difficult for ocean shippers to make gains from diverting freight from one West Coast port to another.
'The shift of trade to West Coast ports left East Coast ports with excess capacity. In addition, the breakbulk segment of the market, largely served by Gulf ports, became more competitive with firms seeking to lower costs. This led to the entry of non-ILA stevedoring to Gulf ports, in turn leading to wage concessions by ILA workers in breakbulk and the emergence of 'ILA lite' operations,' the report said.
'The excess capacity on the East Coast and the ability of employers to pit labor at different ports against each other led to a bifurcation of the ILA wages and further segmentation of this labor market at a time when the ILWU was working to eliminate segmentation in their labor market. Given this confluence of events, it is unlikely that the ILA can recover its past power and bargain for wages that rival ILWU levels.'
The report, compiled by researchers at CSULB's Metrans Transportation Center, is available online at http://www.metrans.org/research/final/AR%2004-02_final_draft.pdf.