Strike threatens port business from Texas to Maine

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Thursday, December 20, 2012

Labor negotiations between an employee organization representing port workers and a maritime organization have broken down – stoking fears that a Dec. 30 strike could shut down shipping at 14 ports along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast.

Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, or USMX, stopped Tuesday afternoon. Because the current labor contract expires Dec. 29, the two groups need either a new contract or an extension of the existing contract.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association has asked President Obama to step in and help prevent a shutdown at the ports.

In a letter from RILA President Sandra Kennedy to Obama, the organization said an imminent work stoppage could cost billions of dollars in lost economic activity.

“RILA is extremely concerned about the potential short and long term consequences to our members, their employees and customers as well as to the economy if cargo is stalled along the East and Gulf Coast ports,” the letter read.

An eight-day port work stoppage on the East Coast cost an estimated $15 billion of losses in 2002, the RILA said.

“A shutdown along the entire East Coast could result in similar consequences,” RILA said in the letter.

After a Los Angeles port labor dispute that had bottlenecked shipping containers ended in early December, attention has shifted to a number of ports from the East Coast down to the Gulf Coast.

The 14 ports affected by the potential work stoppage bring in an estimated 95 percent of shipping containers that offload on the Eastern seaboard, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association news release.

“In order to prevent another prolonged and damaging stoppage, we respectfully request you put the weight of the White House behind resolving this dispute and bringing the ILA and USMX back to the negotiating table,” the letter reads.

The National Retail Federation wrote a similar letter to Obama. The NRF asked the president to invoke presidential powers under the Taft-Hartley Act in order to require port workers to remain on the job and to force both sides back to negotiations.

Ports affected by the stoppage would include Boston; New York/New Jersey; Delaware River; Baltimore; Hampton Roads, VA; Wilmington, NC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Jacksonville, FL; Port Everglades, FL; Miami, Tampa, Mobile, AL; New Orleans and Houston.

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