December 20, 2012

Strike looms at East Coast ports

The longshoremen's union represents 14,500 workers and handles 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Striking workers man the picket line at the Port of Long Beach, Friday Nov. 30, 2012 in Long Beach, Calif. A strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach entered its fourth day on Friday despite efforts to end the walkout that has idled most of the nation's busiest cargo complex (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

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Trucks line up on Pier J Avenue. as they wait to get in to Cosco, one of the few terminals open during the clerical workers strike, in the Port of Long Beach, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. Negotiators returned to the bargaining table Monday as a strike that has crippled operations at the nation's largest port complex entered its seventh day. (AP Photo/The Daily Breeze, Jeff Gritchen)

The union says the payments aren't a bonus, they're an important supplemental wage. It argues that in its previous contract, management agreed to remove the royalties cap in exchange for being allowed to use $42 million of royalty payments to cover a previously negotiated wage increase. There's no way the union can allow the alliance to revive the cap now and accept the cuts in worker income and union revenue, McNamara said.

The sides have traded charges of inflexibility, though both also point to a history of cooperation since the last East Coast-wide strike in 1977. No one has ruled out renewing talks.

But with time so short, companies are pushing up shipment dates or finding alternative transportation, said Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the Washington-based American Apparel and Footwear Association.

Companies are already worried about restocking after the holidays, and some are still dealing with the effects of the West Coast shutdown and Superstorm Sandy, he said.

"You've already got companies and ports and trade that have been battered by a couple of situations over the last couple of months, and we still have this uncertainty," Lamar said.

In Philadelphia, port executive Robert Blackburn estimates a strike could affect 60 percent of the tonnage the port handles.

"Frankly, there's not a lot we can do except that hope that cooler heads prevail and, if they don't, perhaps there will be intervention by the president," Blackburn said.

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