Could port strike be a second fiscal cliff?

Negotiations over a contract dispute that could shut down ports along the East and Gulf Coasts are in their eleventh hour.

Talks collapsed Tuesday between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance.


The National Retail Federation predicts a disaster if 15,000 longshoremen walk off the job, as threatened, on Dec. 30 and shut down the ports of New York/New Jersey and Philadelphia.

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“It’s critical that we have the ports along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast as well as throughout the nation that are fully functional,” said Jonathan Gold of the retail group. He says a port strike would be the largest since 1977.

The retail group has skin in the game with its dire predictions. They’ve asked President Obama to invoke his powers under the Taft-Hartley Act to rule out a strike.

Both sides of the labor dispute blame the other for the breakdown of negotiations. The sticking point has been the payment of royalties for each container moved.

The United States Maritime Alliance, which runs the ports, has been at the table with the longshoremen and a federal mediator, who has proposed a short contract extension.

After the union rejected that option, alliance chairman James Capo called the union’s leaders “inflexible” and said his members were disappointed.

The union wants a wider window for talks and responded with a colorfully worded statement: “The ILA wanted to say ‘Happy New Year’ With a Contract Extension to February 1, 2013, but United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) answered with a resounding ‘Bah Humbug’ and rejected an ILA offer.”

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