It's not much of a Christmas present, at least yet, but late Monday afternoon, the director of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) said the International Longshoremen's Association and the group trying to negotiate a new contract with them, the U.S. Maritime Alliance, have agreed to meet before their current pact expires on Dec. 29.
“FMCS Director George Cohen has called a meeting of the ILA and the Maritime Alliance in advance of the December 29th expiration of the contract extension. The parties have agreed to attend. Due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations FMCS will have no additional comment at this time," was the brief statement released late Monday.
The master contract covering container shipping operations between the longshoremen working at 14 ports along the East and Gulf coasts expired on Sept. 30, but was extended 90 days until Saturday. The ILA has said if an agreement is not reached, its members could go on strike Sunday.
Earlier Monday, two of the largest container terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey, Maher Terminals and Port Newark Container Terminal urged customers to pick up cargo by the close of Friday, Dec. 28, saying if there was a work stoppage, there would be no gate activity at their terminals.
Also on Monday, Joe Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association (NYSA), the group that represents employers in the New York area, expressed its support for USMX, which is negotiating the master contract for container operations at all 14 ports.
Curto said NYSA "is disappointed in the breakdown of negotiations with the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA), and the inflexibility of the union to resolve our disagreements."
"As has been previously reported in the press, the major issue dividing the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) and the ILA is Container Royalty; a supplemental payment the longshore workforce has enjoyed over nearly half a century. Although the continuance of the Container Royalty Program in its present arrangement is a major issue for the employers, the issues of importance specific to the Port of New York and New Jersey have yet to be addressed. These issues include low productivity, excessive staffing, and archaic work rules," he added.
"NYSA continues to support the efforts of USMX in reaching an agreement on Master Contract issues and remains anxious and ready to address the issues that are important to the viability and sustainability of the Port of New York and New Jersey," Curto said.
On Friday, USMX issued a statement
saying "a shutdown would wreak havoc on manufacturers, retailers, farmers and others who depend on the ports to move their supplies and products. They include large America’s retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot that rank among the country’s top importers as well top exporters like Weyerhaeuser, DuPont and Cargill.
"Not only would any disruption have serious consequences for the nation’s still-recovering economy, but it would also jeopardize the financial well-being of the ILA’s 14,500 members, who would lose nearly $5 million in wages and benefits for each day they’re out of work or a total of $150 million in lost compensation in just a month.
"At the Port of New York and New Jersey, which employs more ILA members than any of the 13 other East and Gulf Coast ports, the union’s 3,250 members would lose $7.5 million a week in wages alone." - Chris Dupin