Potential Dock Strike Grows Closer

14,500 Unionized Port Workers Could Go On Strike

Dock WorkersA work stoppage that would affect 14 East and Gulf Coast ports appears to be becoming more likely after recent talks between the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) unexpectedly broke off. In total, 14,500 unionized port workers from Boston to Houston could go on strike, forcing retailers, importers and suppliers to consider alternative delivery sites.

"We are facing a critical time," said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation. "Now that there is a real risk of disruption, most retailers using East Coast and Gulf Coast ports will be forced to execute contingency plans within the next week to meet in-store holiday deadlines."

Among the key issues being disputed are overtime rules and container royalties, with the ILA arguing for higher wages and the USMX seeking to eliminate policies it believes make ports uncompetitive. Throughout the summer, both sides seemed to be making progress toward a new six-year contract, but current stalled talks could lead to the first East Coast port strike in 30 years.

The two largest affected ports are New York/New Jersey, which employs 3,327 unionized longshoremen, and Savannah, GA, which employs about 1,500 longshoremen. If a strike begins, labor experts expect President Obama to soon order longshoremen back to work. Under the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, the president has the authority to end strikes and lockouts. President George W. Bush used the act in 2002 to put a stop to a strike involving dockworkers along the West Coast. The ILA's contract with the USMX is set to expire on September 30.