Jeremy's Notebook

Scott Asks Obama for Help at Ports

December 27, 2012

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked President Barack Obama to intervene this Saturday if the state’s port workers decide to go on strike.

“A shut down of Florida ports is simply not an option,” the governor said this morning during a conference call with the press.

Members of the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance are currently in contract negotiations. The workers’ current contracts expire Dec. 29.

Scott, who was joined on the conference call by state port officials, stressed the importance of the ports to Florida and beyond. He said ramifications of a strike would be felt far inland and impact everything from manufacturing to trucking to the amount of goods on store shelves.

“That means more than one billion dollars a day would not go into our economy,” the governor said.

Scott is requesting that Obama invoke the Taft-Hartley Act if need be. Passed in 1947, the law limits the power of unions and gives the executive branch the authority to obtain legal strike-breaking injunctions. President George W. Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act in 2001 to avoid strikes at West Coast ports.

“A potential strike would be devastating, really, to the entire U.S. economy,” said Bill Johnson, port director for PortMiami and chairman of the Florida Ports Council.

According to the city of Pensacola spokesman Derek Cosson, the involved unions do not have a presence at the Port of Pensacola. He said a strike would not have an impact locally.

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  • Ames December 28, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Let’s examine the point of contention in this negotiation stand off…
    “Although several issues need to be resolved, the two sides are deadlocked over one point in
    particular. The United States Maritime Alliance, an association of shipping companies and terminal owners, is demanding concessions on “container royalty payments,” which the
    companies share with union members for each ton of cargo handled. The companies want to
    freeze those payments for current longshoremen and eliminate them for future hires. The maritime alliance, known as USMX, says it paid $211 million in container royalties to the
    longshoremen last year, averaging $15,500 per eligible worker. James A. Capo, the alliance’s
    chairman, said that came to $10 an hour, on top of what he said were already generous wages. “This issue seems to have dwarfed anything else,” Mr. Capo said. “All it does is make the union
    more uncompetitive than it already is.” The alliance says that, including the royalties, the longshoremen earn $124,000 a year on average
    in wages and benefits. Union officials say those figures are misleading and put average annual
    wages at $75,000 before benefits — still far more than most union members earn. The container payments were created in the 1960s to compensate the longshoremen as ports
    embraced automation and the use of standardized, 40-foot-long containers to ship goods. That
    caused a big decrease in jobs and working hours. Employment of longshoremen in the Port of
    New York and New Jersey has dropped to 3,500 from 35,000 in the 1960s. The shipping companies see the royalty payments as a relic of decades past, while the union still
    sees them as a core part of wages and as an important way to share productivity gains with

    These are highly skilled tradesmen who perform very dangerous tasks in a very dangerous work environment. Their average annual pay is $75k, the royalty payment, which is their production pay, brings the average pay to $125k. Maybe the shipping companies and terminal owners need to cut their executives’ pay if their budgets are running tight, which I seriously doubt is the case.

  • RT December 27, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Not at all unpleasant. I was merely being cautious. These polarized discussions tend to go south quickly. I am anti-union and pro-business. End of story.

  • EPenn December 27, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Was I unpleasant? I appologize if I was… I just used the same logic as you… look at it from an employees stand point and you will see that most if not all businesses hold all the cards.

  • RT December 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    EPenn, I think you and I would not likely agree on the virtues and vices of labor unions. Therefore, we can (with courtesy) agree to disagree. There is no reason for unpleasant exchanges.

  • EPenn December 27, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    And when your employer asks you to give up all your benefits or loose your job… that’s not extortion? Of course if you don’t have a union and can’t afford to hire a team of laywers like the comnpany you work for, I guess its all good, right? I guess if you look up in a dictionary under “down-sizing”, I am guessing you find the synonym, “extortion”.

  • RT December 27, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    So a republican asks a democrat to step in and interfere with a union. That should work out well. BTW, why do unions persist in shooting themselves (and others) in the foot? If you look in dictionary under “strike,” I am guessing you find the synonym, “extortion.”

  • EPenn December 27, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Sounds like those longshoremen have pretty important jobs… maybe they should get paid more? just saying.