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No deal yet as 14-port strike deadline looms

Keywords: Tags  International Longshoremen's Association, U.S. Maritime Alliance, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, George Cohen, ports, strike, containers, labor Thorsten Schier

NEW YORK — The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) are continuing labor contract negotiations with just days to avert a strike that would affect containerized cargo along the East and Gulf coasts.

George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FCMS), has called for a meeting "in advance of the Dec. 29 expiration of the contract extension," according to the FCMS website, but even though both parties have agreed to participate, the meeting has yet to take place, a union spokesman told AMM Thursday.

A spokesman for the FCMS and a spokeswoman for the USMX declined to comment on the state of negotiations.

A strike by some 15,000 ILA members would affect container shipments at 14 ports, hitting all metals-related industries—including nonferrous and ferrous scrap—that rely on that form of transportation (, Dec. 21).

"A shutdown would wreak havoc on manufacturers, retailers, farmers and others who depend on the ports to move their supplies and products," the USMX said on its website, listing Minneapolis-based commodities trader Cargill Inc. as among those likely to be affected by the strike.

"In New York and New Jersey, for example, a shutdown would result in $100 million in lost revenue a month for railroads, truckers and other port-related transportation industries that handle the more than 250,000 containers that move through the port each month," the USMX said.

A 10-day lockout at West Coast ports in 2002 cost the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion a day, according to the USMX, an alliance of container carriers, major marine terminal operators and port associations on the East and Gulf coasts.

Ports are putting contingency plans in place in the event of a strike.

The Port of Houston Authority said on its website that it is "coordinating with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide for extended work hours on Dec. 26, 27 and 28 at both container terminals to accommodate customers needing to clear cargo from the terminals in advance of the anticipated labor action.

"If (an) agreement is not reached prior to the deadline, container terminals will be closed until the parties reach resolution at the national level," the port authority said.

A statement on the Port Newark Container Terminal website encouraged customers to "pick up import reefer containers this week prior to any possible work stoppage."

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