There’s a very solid opinion piece at USA Today this week which speaks to the recent work slowdown (we don’t want to say “strike” I suppose) on west coast docks by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). They are in the midst of a new round of contract negotiations and have tied up the flow of goods in some of the nation’s busiest ports to “leverage” their bargaining position. This has not been just some minor inconvenience. Honda is cutting back production (and work hours) due to a lack of parts. Your favorite cuts of steak aren’t making it to the table. Retailers ran out of product in a variety of areas. This is serious economic damage at a time when the nation can ill afford it.
So just how badly do these workers need the extra pound of flesh they are demanding? Let’s just say they aren’t exactly suffering under the status quo.
Barring a complete shutdown or lockout, it does not look as though the slowdown will be enough to derail the economy as a whole. Nonetheless, it is having a considerable impact on workers whose jobs and income rely on imports and exports, and who are wondering what they did to deserve their fates.
These people would be even more distressed if they knew the port workers’ income. The Pacific Maritime Association, manager of the ports, says an average full-time worker makes $147,000 a year, with very generous benefits on top of that.
The ILWU says longshoremen aren’t always able to work as many hours as they’d like, putting a typical income at $83,000.
Even if the truth lies somewhere in between, the longshoremen who are causing so much grief to workers and businesses around the country are among the nation’s best-paid blue-collar workers.
Dock work isn’t easy and the men and women who do it certainly deserve to be compensated for their labors. But even living on the west coast, are these really the types of jobs where averaging a six figure salary is so poor that you need to shut down the flow of commerce? If you asked the average worker around the country, I’m fairly sure that 90% of them would offer up a limb to be making that kind of money for a job that doesn’t require a sheepskin from an Ivy League school.
But it’s not the workers at fault. Once again, it’s the unions, and their tactics are the typical scorched Earth policies we see time and time again. The offer currently on the table is a 14% increase in pay over five years combined with other benefits and incentives. That’s a guaranteed raise of nearly 3% per year for half a decade. In this economy, how many of you have seen years go by with no raise at all, or a pittance of an increase which would make 3% look fairly attractive? Combined with the pensions and other goodies, this is a dream package for most people.
And yet there has been this fit of pique taking place at the ports which affects everyone. And again… this is a slowdown we’re talking about. The op-ed above correctly refers to it as a “strike with pay.” The workers are still collecting their regular paychecks while essentially choking off the flow of commerce and capitalism. Unfortunately, there is no remedy for this which comes to mind. The unions are so massive and control such a broad swath of vital economic infrastructure that they can essentially hold a gun to everyone’s heads and get away with it.