East and Gulf Coast ports are clearing cargo from marine terminals in preparation for next week’s threatened dockworker strike as a negotiating standoff continues.
Officials representing employers group United States Maritime Alliance plan to meet next week to discuss options that could include a lockout of International Longshoremen’s Association members from ports along the coast.
The union has said any strike would be restricted to containerized cargo, but that ILA members would continue to work breakbulk, automobiles, non-frozen perishables, military shipments and passenger ships.
ILA spokesman James McNamara said that for containerized perishables, the union would discharge the containers from ships and maintain containers at proper temperatures but would not release them from terminals or load boxes onto ships.
No negotiations have been scheduled since the ILA and USMX failed last Tuesday to agree on a second extension of their contract past its Dec. 29 expiration. Talks broke off after USMX rejected the ILA’s demand to remove container royalties from the negotiations.
Union delegates have authorized a strike that ILA President Harold Daggett said could begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 30. ILA officials plan to meet after the Christmas holiday to discuss plans.
Port authorities aren’t directly involved in the negotiations but are preparing for the worst. They have been accelerating movement of containers from terminals and advising customers that if the ILA strikes, container terminals will be closed until the work stoppage ends.
At the Port of New York and New Jersey, heavy traffic at marine terminals combined with inclement weather to produce long delays on Friday. At Boston, the Massachusetts Port Authority said it would offer extended gate hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., next Wednesday through Friday.
Business groups have urged President Obama to seek a back-to-work injunction and 80-day cooling-off period under the Taft-Hartley Act if necessary to prevent a work stoppage.
USMX urged the ILA to resume bargaining, and warned a strike “could have serious consequences for the nation’s economy as well as for ILA members themselves.”
In addition to heavy costs up and down companies’ supply chains, ILA members would lose $5 million in wages and benefits for each day of a strike, the employer group said.
USMX said that in New York-New Jersey, a strike would cost 3,250 dockworkers nearly $5 million a day in lost wages and benefits. It said lost wages and benefits would total $2.3 million a week in Savannah and $10 million a month at the Port of Virginia,