Dockworkers to Resume Contract Talks with East, Gulf Coast Ports

Date: Monday, March 12, 2018
Source: Wall Street Journal

Labor negotiations are back on between employers and unionized dockworkers at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, which face a September deadline to reach a new contract agreement.

The talks are being rekindled after pressure from shippers and businesses whose supply chains face disruption if port operations should slow or shut down during the fall peak shipping season. Groups that represent retail, food and beverage, agriculture and logistics operators sent a letter last week urging both sides to resume negotiations and threatening to reroute shipments to West Coast ports as a contingency plan.

Discussions between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance Ltd., or USMX, which represents terminal operators and container shipping lines at ports from Maine to Texas, broke off in December over disagreements on how ports define automation. Harold Daggett, the ILA’s president, has said that blocking job losses to automation would be a focus during talks to extend the current contract.

On Friday, the ILA and USMX said in a joint statement that they are resuming talks “with the goal of completing terms on a contract that will keep cargo moving at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. The two sides will continue to negotiate Master Contract issues and will encourage local port areas to concurrently work out terms for local agreements.”

ILA spokesman Jim McNamara said the earlier discussions over what constituted fully automated equipment and semi-automated terminals had moved forward “enough where they could resume negotiations.”

USMX’s chief executive, David Adam, declined through a spokeswoman to comment beyond his written remarks with Mr. Daggett, which said both groups want to keep cargo moving and “are ready to put in the effort” to complete a contract.

Businesses that rely on key gateways such as the Port of New York and New Jersey, the busiest on the East Coast, had grown increasingly anxious as the months ticked down toward the Sept. 30 contract expiration, particularly after crippling cargo delays that came during labor strife on the West Coast in 2014 and 2015. The separate West Coast dockworkers union and port operators agreed in August to extend their labor contract by three years, to July 22.

“We are pleased to see the parties get back to the table,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain for the National Retail Federation, one of more than 100 industry groups that signed the March 2 letter. The letter was earlier reported by the Journal of Commerce.

“Most shippers are beginning contract negotiations with ocean carriers,” Mr. Gold said, “so as they’re planning for the fall this hopefully will give them confidence that a deal will be done and there won’t be any disruption.”

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