UPDATED Feb. 1, 2:15 p.m. — The International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance appear to be moving closer to an agreement that would keep East and Gulf Coast ports open after the current dockworker contract expires at midnight Wednesday.
Negotiators met into the night Thursday and reportedly exchanged contract proposals that were to be discussed today. Details weren’t available, but sources in the talks reported progress toward a deal.
Those sources cautioned that negotiators may not have time to agree on all issues before Wednesday. But they added that if the two sides can come close to a deal, the union could keep working past Wednesday while final details are smoothed out.
Neither the union nor employers are enthusiastic about a third extension of their contract, originally set to expire last Sept. 30. The latest contract extension last month averted a threatened Dec. 30 strike.
Negotiators had reserved rooms and meeting space for three days this week at a hotel near the Newark, N.J., airport. Today they moved to a different hotel nearby to continue their meetings.
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is overseeing the negotiations. The mediators became involved after negotiations broke down last August. The ILA and employers have engaged in on-and-off bargaining since last March.
The two sides are seeking a six-year contract.
The ILA hasn’t had a coastwide strike in 35 years, but this year’s negotiations have been unusually contentious.
A key issue has been work rules at the high-cost Port of New York and New Jersey. Negotiators this week reportedly have made headway on those issues, which are in a supplemental local contract between the ILA and the New York Shipping Association.
While the negotiations continue, cargo interests, carriers and terminals are proceeding with contingency plans in case of a work stoppage.
Port Newark Container Terminal said that if there’s no contract deal, it will keep its gates open until 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday for import pickups. PNCT, Global Container Terminal and New York Container Terminal have said they will not accept refrigerated boxes after Wednesday.
The Port of Virginia also issued its updated contingency plan for a potential strike.