Time runs short to avert longshoremen's strike

In just a few days, a walkout by thousands of dock workers could bring commerce to a near standstill at every major port from Boston to Houston, potentially delivering a big blow to retailers and manufacturers still struggling to find their footing in a weak economy.
Associated Press
Dec 28, 2012

More than 14,000 longshoremen are threatening to go on strike Sunday — a wide-ranging work stoppage that would immediately close cargo ports on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to container ships.

The 15 ports involved in the labor dispute move more than 100 million tons of goods each year, or about 40 percent of the nation's containerized cargo traffic. Losing them to a shutdown, even for a few days, could cost the economy billions of dollars.

"If the port shuts down, nothing moves in or out," said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. And when the workers do return, "it's going to take time to clear out that backlog, and we don't know how long that it's going to take."

Shipments of such varied products as flat-screen TVs, sneakers and snow shovels would either sit idle at sea or get rerouted, at great time and expense. U.S. factories also rely on container ships for parts and raw materials, meaning supply lines for all sorts of products could be squeezed.

Joseph Ahlstrom, a professor at the State University of New York's Maritime College and a former cargo ship captain, called container ships the "lifeblood of the country."

"We don't fly in a lot of products. It's just too expensive," Ahlstrom said. "The bulk of the products we import come in inside containers."

The master contract between the International Longshoremen's Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, a group representing shipping lines, terminal operators and port associations, expired in September. The two sides agreed to extend it once already, for 90 days, but they have so far balked at extending it again when it expires at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The union said its members would agree to an extension only if the Maritime Alliance dropped a proposal to freeze the royalties workers get for every container they unload. The Alliance has argued that the longshoremen, who it said earn an average $124,138 per year in wages and benefits, are compensated well enough already.

Federal mediators have been trying to push negotiations along, but there has been no word from either side on the progress of the talks since Dec. 24. As recently as Dec. 19, the president of the longshoremen, Harold Daggett, said the talks weren't going well and that a strike was expected.

The work stoppage would not be absolute. Longshoremen would continue to handle military cargo, mail, passenger ships, non-containerized items like automobiles, and perishable commodities, like fresh food.

Yet the economic damage could still be severe.

"The global economy moves by water, and shutting down container ports along the East and Gulf coasts while the national economy remains fragile benefits no one," Deborah Hadden, acting port director at Massport, the public agency that oversees shipping terminals in Boston. It is not a part of the contract dispute.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said "the livelihood of thousands of Florida families lies in the balance."

The White House weighed in, too, urging dockworkers and shipping companies Thursday to reach agreement "as quickly as possible" on a contract extension. Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich said the administration is monitoring the situation closely.

If it happens, the walkout could be the biggest national port disruption since 2002, when unionized dockworkers were locked out of 29 West Coast ports for 10 days because of a contract dispute.

The ports only reopened after President George W. Bush, invoking powers given to him by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, ordered an 80-day cooling-off period. Some economists estimated that each day of that lockout cost the U.S. economy $1 billion. It took months for the retail supply chain to fully recover.

An East Coast port freeze would have its biggest impact at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where 3,250 longshoremen handled 32.3 million tons of cargo in 2010. The authority is not a party to the contract dispute.

Other major ports affected would include Savannah, Ga., which handled 18 million tons, and Houston and Hampton Roads, Va., which each handled more than 12.5 million tons.

Thousands of other jobs would be directly affected by the shutdown. Truck drivers might not have any cargo to transport, tug boat captains no ships to guide and freight train operators nothing to haul.

Simultaneously, another labor dispute involving dock workers was playing out on the West Coast.

Longshoremen at several Pacific Northwest grain terminals worked Thursday under contract terms they soundly rejected last weekend. The owners implemented the terms after declaring talks at an impasse. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has yet to announce its next move.

Workplace rules, not salary and benefits, have been the obstacle to a new deal.

The dispute involves terminals in Portland, Ore., Vancouver, Wash., and Seattle, where longshoremen have been working without an agreement since the last contract expired Sept. 30.

 

Comments

iamrevolutionary

I believe that if we didn't import so much and manufactured more here at home, this strike wouldn't be so painful... But, that's just my opinion..

titanfan84

Fire them all the day they walk out. Get rid of unions they are ruining our country

luvblues2

Ronnie Raygun did that with the Air Traffic Controllers.

Pete

PATCO quit their jobs. Was a self-inflicted wound on their part. Too arrogant and too stupid.

luvblues2

You don't think the dock workers are cutting their own throat as well? There isn't a trade union in this USA that can shut down any type of production that will cripple this country. Too many people out of work willing to fill the positions.

mikel

wow, $124,000+ and that is not enough? i say double their pay so they can get taxed like he!! from prezo!

looking around

These guy's already pay more taxes than your buddy Romney and spend their hard earned wages in the community they live in. The cost of living in the city's where these ports are is high so these wages are not out of line. They don't have off shore accounts and loop holes to buy expensive toys written off against their business like the rich guy that is importing these containers full of foreign crap!

Fromthe419

They pay more taxes than Romney? What planet are you living on? This link is from MSNBC http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_...
By msnbc.com news services

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released tax records on Tuesday indicating he is paying $6.2 million in taxes on a total of $42.5 million in income over the years 2010 and 2011.

If I paid 6.2 million in taxes over a 2 year period, I would expect MUCH more from my government than endless spending and endless debt. I agree we should stop depending on cheap foreign crap, but I fail to see how taxing more and spending more is going to lessen the debt burden that we all face. We have a spending problem and that has to be addressed

2cents

The other farce being aired as it was during the election is the so called rich are paying only 14%, well that is on investments, not income. So is that not a form of double taxation? Not really but the money earned as income to invest the first time was taxed at the high end all together about 52% then any return on the investment was taxed at about 14%. I love the progressive math…

The Big Dog's back

The original money is not taxed, only the money they make on it. Not double taxed. It should be taxed as regular income. Not 1 millionaire or billionaire paid the going tax rate.

Dr. Information

Capital gains tax is 14%. Doesn't matter if you are rich or a small time investor. Liberals just see large numbers and think that they should pay more. Like you said earlier. Work hard Big Dog, don't be so jealous of any and everyone using the LEGAL tax code.

2cents

(importing these containers full of foreign crap)

Stay out of Walmart and they will not import the crap!

looking around

I'm proud to say I have never been in a Walmart and never will!

Dr. Information

@looking....typical liberal. Can't even use google right. lol. Romney paid more in taxes in one year and donated more in one year than you ever will in your entire LIFE. Go collect your check now sheep.

The Big Dog's back

% wise rmoney paid less. Now go get some more drivel from your right wing puppet masters.

Dr. Information

Show me the facts pal? You can't. You liberals cant even google right. Let me guess you are going to say he paid out 14% in taxes right? Thats federal taxes, he also paid state and local taxes as well which liberals like you forget to add in. Its like making chocolate chip cookies and forgetting the chips. They also donated millions.

Romney paid 42 percent of 2011 income in taxes and charityhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/bl...

The Big Dog's back

Charity does not count, especially when it's his.

Pete

They had agreed to a 30 day extension before the SR even posted this story. Sadness....

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireSto...

cam

titanfan, you really think that 8 percent of this country is ruining it??? If you do you are a bigger moran then I thought. Its funny, every person who posts something stupid on here like that has benefited from what the unions have done. It all comes down to one thing. Jealousy. If I don't make that much they shouldn't. LOL Untill you got all the facts I wouldn't comment.

I'm just going to assume you are a fan of our states Gov. to. This man should be under investagation right now. Taking the gas tax that was only sposed to be used for infrastructure and using it for everything else but that. It was around 180 million he misused. Why are you and the other right wingers not speaking of this??? If that was Obama or a Dem you would be screaming.

2cents

(Jealousy. If I don't make that much they shouldn't.)

Right, so don't hate the top 2% that Bozombo wants to tax so badly and the country will only run 8 days with that.

KURTje

Dr. info, please look at ewg.org then connect the dots to someone you know. It is still welfare & working people pay it. Sad. They also paid for Terry Boose's migrant, i.e. cheap labour. Opps forgot about the housing & medical too. Not to mention ALL the legal tax deductions they get.