Retailers brace for possible Eastern ports strike
NEWARK, N.J. — A union representing dock workers at the East Coast’s busiest port has authorized a strike if a contract deal isn’t reached by the end of next month, lending urgency to preparations by retailers to send cargo elsewhere if labor talks affecting the entire seaboard hit a standstill.
The negotiations affect ports up and down the East Coast and turn on key issues of overtime rules and container royalties, which are payments to union workers based on the weight of cargo received at each port.
Talks broke down last week, and both sides said Wednesday no new discussions had been scheduled.
Some retailers had already put contingency plans into action and were rerouting ships to the West Coast or seeking other alternatives, while others were on the verge of acting, said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation.
The Port of Los Angeles was prepared for the additional traffic, spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. Any rerouted ships likely won’t arrive for a few weeks, he said.
A spokesman for Local 1804-1 of the International Longshoremen’s Association confirmed that the union’s strike authorization vote was entered late Tuesday. The local represents about 1,200 of the Port of New York and Jersey’s 3,500 longshoremen and consists of maintenance and repair workers, spokesman James McNamara said.
James Capo, head of the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents container carriers and port operators in the negotiations, has accused the union of taking advantage of loose overtime rules to make the New York-New Jersey ports the most expensive in the world.
The alliance said one-third of ILA workers there make more than $200,000 per year, not counting bonuses.
A port strike could be economically devastating for places like South Carolina, where the Charleston ILA Local 1422 represents about 1,300 maritime workers, and for Savannah, the second-busiest container port on the East Coast.
A strike would sideline roughly 1,500 longshoremen in Savannah, where the Georgia Ports Authority employs about 1,000 additional staff.
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.