Federal mediator will oversee meetings
Negotiators for the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance are scheduled to meet Wednesday to resume stalled contract bargaining under supervision of a federal mediator. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is overseeing the talks, aimed at working out a contract covering ILA dockworkers
Longshoremen, employers to resume talks
Saturday, September 15, 2012
The Port of Houston Authority and companies that handle or rely on containerized cargo shipments are watching contract negotiations between unionized dockworkers and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents employers.
The International Longshoremen's Association said last month it was preparing for a possible strike on Oct. 1, the day after a master contract covering 14,500 jobs at more than a dozen ports on the East and Gulf coasts is set to expire.
The parties have been negotiating since March, according to the Maritime Alliance website, and reached a tentative agreement over some portions of the contract in midsummer, but negotiations stalled Aug. 22 over wages and benefits. They resume negotiations this week with federal mediators.
"We made a request to the parties, and they have agreed to resume negotiations under our auspices the week of the 17th," said John Arnold, spokesman for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Industry groups such as the National Retail Federation, concerned with potential disruptions to the flow of consumer goods before the holiday season, have urged the parties to forge ahead with negotiations.
"Failure to reach agreement will lead to supply chain disruptions which could seriously harm the U.S. economy,"Matthew Shay, CEO of the retail group, said in a news release in late August, the week after negotiations stalled.
On its website, the Maritime Alliance touts a record of successful negotiations with the ILA since 1977, "without any disruptions."
The 14 ports covered under the soon-expiring contract "handled more than 110 million tons of import and export cargo, accounting for 95 percent of containerized shipments from Maine to Texas," according to the alliance website.
Maria Echeverry, general manager of Cadeco Industries, which receives mainly green coffee imports at its facility on the Houston port, said her company's customers - particularly large-scale coffee roasters that rely on daily shipments - are preparing contingency plans in the event of a strike.
"They are definitely concerned," Echeverry said, noting that the Green Coffee Association has been sending out updates every few days.
Capt. Bill Diehl, president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau, which counts the ILA and management groups as members, said the Houston port may not be as affected as others if a strike does occur because 60 percent of incoming ships service the petrochemical industry, meaning they don't carry containers and thus won't be affected.
However, the majority of Port of Houston Authority's revenues come from its two container terminals, Barbours Cut and Bayport, which employ 80 to 150 ILA workers on any given day. A spokesman confirmed the authority is closely watching the talks.
The West Gulf Maritime Association, which represents employers that operate at the port, estimates that 1,000 ILA workers are on the wharves in Houston each workday.