December 27, 2012

Time runs short to avert longshoremen's strike

The strike, which could start Sunday, would paralyze East Coast ports. The longshoremen union handles 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas.

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In this Dec. 18, 2012 file photo, a truck driver watches as a freight container, right, is lowered onto a tractor trailer by a container crane at the Port of Boston in Boston. The crane and a reach stacker, left, are operated by longshoremen at the port. The longshoremen's union may strike if they are unable to reach an agreement on their contract, which expires Dec. 29, 2012. A walkout by dock workers represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association would bring commerce to a near halt at ports from Boston to Houston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

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.

 

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