Longshoremen expected to forgo wages for benefits


NEW YORK -- Officers of the International Longshoremen's Association are expected today to approve a two-year contract extension that would include the union forgoing a scheduled wage increase in order to maintain existing benefits, sources close to the negotiations said yesterday.

The ILA's master contract covering all container work for the East and Gulf coasts does not expire until Sept. 30, 1994.

But John Bowers, union president, had previously announced that the union wanted to extend the contract in order to avoid any risk of a strike while a new contract is negotiated and to preserve benefits. The union has about 50,000 members. Union leaders reportedly also sought the extension in order to avoid the possibility of wildcat strikes among radical members if negotiations became heated.

Union officials would not publicly comment on the extension yesterday, but knowledgeable sources said the contract would be extended for two years beginning Oct. 1, 1994. No information was available on whether hourly wages would be frozen during that period or whether they would rise at the same one dollar-a-year level they do in the existing contract.

On Oct. 1, ILA workers are scheduled to receive a $1-an-hour increase, to $22 an hour. But sources said that as part of the extension deal ILA workers would forgo that increase so that money could be put into a fund that would help maintain benefits in ports with troubled pension and benefit plans.

"The idea is to maintain benefits at existing levels," said one union official.

Although wages on container rates are negotiated on a coastwide level, many of the union's benefit plans are funded locally. With the work force declining over time because of automation and competition from non-union labor, this has left many ports with more retirees than current workers and has stretched benefit funds to their limits.

The contract extension will have to be approved by the ILA

membership. That vote is expected to come next week.

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