Fears of a widespread strike at ports along the US East and Gulf coasts next month have been allayed following an agreement between the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) and the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) to extend collective bargaining for another 90 day period to the end of December this year.

The current period was due to end at the end of September and with no resolution in sight it appeared that a strike at the US’ busiest container and vehicle processing ports, involving around 15,000 workers, would bring shipments to a standstill, hitting manufacturing and vehicle import and export.
The decision to extend the bargaining process was “for the good of the country” and designed to avoid any interruption in interstate commerce according to a statement by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) that quoted both parties. The FMCS was brought in to mediate negotiations following a breakdown at the end of August.
“This extension will provide the parties an opportunity to focus on the outstanding core issues in a deliberate manner apart from the pressure of an immediate deadline,” said the FMCS in a statement.
Those “outstanding core issues” include overtime rules and container royalties, the payments made to union workers based on the weight of cargo received at each port.
USMX chairman James Capo is reported to referred to them as part of a number of “archaic work rules and manning practices” that result in millions of dollars being paid for time not worked.
He said that such inefficiencies were causing many ports to become prohibitively expensive, harming their competitive ability and threatening the long term viability of operations.”
ILA president Harold J Daggett saw things in a different light stating that USMX had called for the union to give up its eight-hour work guarantee that many port areas of the ILA have had for years. “USMX also demanded that the ILA radically change the hard-fought contractual rules for the payment of overtime. These were items that should not even have been part of the master contract discussions,” he said in September.
Last week, fears that the ports were facing an inevitable shutdown were reported to be raising spot container rates on cargo moving from Asia to the US (read more here).
The FMCS said that because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations there would be no further comment.