DAILY NEWS Dec 19, 2012 10:31 AM - 0 comments

Breakdown in port worker contract negotiations threaten "Container Cliff'

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Negotiations on a new contract between the International Longshoremen's Association and employers represented by the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) broke off abruptly December 18.

Union and management said they were going to discuss container royalties, payments that are made to longshoremen based on the weight of containerized cargo. USMX wanted to cap those payments, said an American Shipper release.

Bennie Holland, executive vice president of the ILA, said the union told management it was "willing to extend the contract to Feb. 1 and keep talking if management would be willing to take the container royalty cap off the table and we could show them other ways to accommodate them with other adjustment that would offset" the royalties.

"They refused, so right now unless we hear back from them we will be on strike on Dec. 29," he told reporters.

 Dave Adam, senior vice president and chief operating officer of USMX, said "employers are willing to continue to bargain in good faith," but that the union had put terms on the extension that were unacceptable.

Commenting on the breakdown of contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance, Ltd., The National Retail Federation’s Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said it was “extremely disheartening to learn that the two sides failed to reach an agreement during negotiations. NRF urged both sides to remain at the table until a deal is reached.

 “It is imperative that both sides verbally announce their intentions to return to the negotiations. A coast-wide port shutdown would have a significant impact across all businesses and industries that rely on the ports, particularly retail.”

 Gold added that a strike would be the last thing the economy needed right now, and that the situation was a ‘container cliff’ in the making.

 "The retail industry, once again, calls on President Obama to engage directly in the negotiations. The President should utilize all available tools, including Taft-Hartley, to eliminate even the threat of a strike or lockout. The time for leadership is now.”

 The Taft-Hartley Act enlarged the National Labor Relations Board and provided that the union or the employer must, before terminating a collective-bargaining agreement, serve notice on the other party and on a government mediation service. The government was also empowered to obtain an 80-day injunction against any strike that it deemed a peril to national health or safety.

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