What makes the Longshore unions as successful at winning ‘whatever they want’ is their exclusivity in their specific job market sector. The ILWU and ILA have a death grip on their respective coasts. There is no plausible process in the future, that I can see, where that arrangement will change. However, I believe their last militant effort and strike threatening out here on the west coast brought everyone to the red line of seeing just how far they can go. The non-maritime public has NO LOVE for the dockworkers unions. Sadly, the public throw mariners under the same bus. I do my best to educate anyone who listens that, “We are NOT the same.”
But while the west coast gang is still firmly set in their ways, I think the very loud and very public media driven effort by the PMA cultivated a lot of scrutiny (all of it negative) of the union. Again, with little (none?) public support, it was very challenging to support what the unions wanted. Public sympathy was for the shipping companies. It doesn’t matter where you stood on any issue on the table, it was made to be all about money and how greedy the unions were. I’m NOT taking sides. I’m just describing how it was at least from everything I read and saw first hand.
Since that last go round, I believe the ILWU has taken a different tack on negotiations. I believe they have wisely opted for a more low profile, “how do we get to an understanding and agreement early” in recent talks. Things have been relatively quiet the last few years and that’s a good thing for everyone.
Maritime unions in the USA that ‘compete’ for contracts with various shipowners are their own worst enemy. As a Pilot, I work aboard two distinctly different groups of US Flag ships that each employ MM&P and AMO. I see and hear about it all the time, from both sides. I totally get it.
Until a path to unification can be discovered and followed, it’s the law of supply and demand and competitive pricing. That doesn’t serve the rank and file in the long run. For those who “want more” (yes, that’s you in the AMO), you need to demand more not from your employer (the shipowner). You need to get the Union negotiators to push harder. I say that as a guy that sailed as an AMO officer the entire time I was deep sea. Not once did anyone ever ask me…or anyone else I worked with … what was a satisfactory pay scale. I was always TOLD what the wages would be, never asked what we’d like. I sailed with one company exclusievly, with as many as 9 ships, all of them had different contracts. This was back in the 90’s. Maybe it’s different now.
I’m not bad mouthing AMO or any union. They did good by me with all the training and education and license prep I got at Dania. For free. I was happy and have no complaints.
But years later, as a MM&P member in the Pilot group that speaks to offshore officers all the time, I see the bigger picture. As long as AMO attempts to underbid MM&P/MEBA offers in an effort to secure more jobs, the situation will never improve for rank and file. Ironically, if thats okay with everybody, so be it. MM&P hold the “standards” bar very high. AMO accepts a lower standard, again, to chase the number of jobs. But at lower pay.
Will there ever be a time to serve all US seafarers to benefit from a meeting of the minds and come together as one deck union and one engineering union? I doubt it. Not in my lifetime. That will require a huge paradigm shift for everyone. I’m not holding my breath.