While many maritime accidents involving vessels take place while at sea, there are some that occur while in port. Boaters, cargo vessel workers and even cruise ship operators need to constantly be on the lookout for any signs of danger that might jeopardize the safety of those onboard their vessels, but many times, the dangers that surround workers at ports are often overlooked. Dock workers, just like crewmembers, should be kept safe from accidents and injuries as well, and are protected by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), a federal law that protects workers in the event their safety was compromised. Also longshoreman can bring claims if they can show negligence on the part of a vessel owner or operator.
Despite the protective laws that are in place, longshoremen are often neglected, docked wages, or their safety is compromised, which often leads to strikes among workers. According to a federal mediator, a union of dockworkers recently threatened strike, which could have led Eastern ports all the way from Maine to Texas to shut down. However, the dispute was averted as both sides involved agreed to a tentative settlement on Friday.
George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, issued a formal statement, explaining that the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance reached agreement regarding the issue of container royalties, a supplemental payment that is given to union workers based on the weight of cargo that is received at each port. In addition, the parties also agreed to an additional, 30-day extension to negotiate all the issues that are still being debated. The parties will have until midnight on Jan. 28 to negotiate their terms. What these actual terms will be has yet to be announced, as the two sides are still in mediation. However, Cohen give a brief explanation that the negotiations will ultimately have a positive effect.
“What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement,” said Cohen, who brought the disputing parties together on Thursday for an 11th hour mediation session. “While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”
The International Longshoremen’s Association is a labor union that represents longshoremen along the East Coast of the United States and Canada, as well as the Gulf Coast, Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, and inland waterways. A longshoreman is a type of maritime worker that is employed in a port and whose main duty is to load and unload vessels. Historically, this work was performed by the seaman on the vessels but in modern times this work has gone to the specialized dock workers. This line of work is extremely dangerous and despite safety laws that are in place, many times, longshoremen do not get the full protection they deserve both before an accident takes place or after. Union workers are entitled to certain benefits, but oftentimes, these benefits are denied to them, which is what leads to strikes and potentially dangerous situations.
Photo Credit: USA Today
Published on January 3, 2013
Categories: Maritime Matter of the Week