By  on March 13, 2013

WASHINGTON — Federal mediators said a consortium of shipping companies and terminal operators, and a labor group representing East and Gulf coast dockworkers, approved a tentative agreement on a master contract Wednesday.

The two sides reached a tentative deal in early February, averting a strike that could have impacted millions of dollars in apparel, textile and footwear imports. Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service director George H. Cohen said the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX), representing the container carriers and marine terminal operators at 14 ports from Maine to Texas, and the International Longshoremen’s Association, representing 15,000 members, have essentially brought 11 months of negotiations to a close with the approval by both sides of the tentative deal.

The deal must still be ratified by the memberships of the USMX and the ILA.

“The parties have successfully concluded lengthy, complex and understandably sometimes contentious negotiations concerning a multitude of economic and job related issues,” said Cohen. “Mutual respect, good old-fashioned ‘roll up your sleeves’ hard work and applying innovative problem solving skills ultimately prevailed.”

Cohen called the deal a “monumental result” that “paves the way for six years of stable labor-management relations covering all the Atlantic and Gulf coast ports.”

The master contract includes a $1 hourly wage increase in 2014, 2016 and 2017, the final year of the contract, according to a joint statement from the ILA and the USMX. New employees would still be paid $20 an hour but would reach the top wage scale in six years instead of nine years. On the issue of container royalties, ocean carriers would fund the annual royalty payments at $211 million for the next six years, which is the amount paid in 2011, plus up to an additional $14 million for administrative expenses, and share equally with the ILA any container royalties that exceed $225 million.

About 20 percent of all apparel, textile and footwear trade moves through the 14 ports, which handled more than 110 million tons of cargo in 2011, the most recent data available.

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