Potential dock strike threatens U.S. shipping

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 2012 - A looming dock strike could affect East and Gulf coast ports and cost American industries - agricultural and otherwise - billions of dollars in lost profits.

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The strike would be the conclusion to labor talks gone sour between dockworkers' International Longshoremen's Association and port operators' and shipping companies' U.S. Maritime Alliance. The dockworkers' current labor contract expires on Dec. 29.

Billions of dollars of product move through American ports each day. The Gulf Coast is particularly vital to American agriculture - Brazilian corn imports move through the region's ports, destined for use in feedlots and ethanol production. Corn imports are especially important this year, as the record-breaking drought continues to ravage corn supplies.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), which represents large corporations including Wal-Mart, Target and Whole Foods, asked President Obama to intervene in the labor talks in an open letter sent Dec. 19. “RILA is extremely concerned about the potential short and long term consequences to our members, their employees and customers as well as to the economy if cargo is stalled along the East and Gulf Coast ports,” Sandra L. Kennedy, the organization's president, wrote. “In 2002, it was reported that the work stoppage on the West Coast caused an estimated $15 billion in losses; a shutdown along the entire East Coast could result in similar consequences.”

Just yesterday, Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service (FMCS) Director George H. Cohen called for a meeting in advance of the contract's Dec. 29 expiration. Both parties have agreed to attend, according to the FMCS website.

The timing of this strike would be especially unfortunate should Congress fail in its own talks - those to resolve the fiscal cliff. The loss of $1 billion a day would seem paltry compared to the $110 in automated spending cuts set to kick in on January 1 should the legislature fail to cut a deal.

Ports affected by the strike would include New York-New Jersey; Boston; Delaware River; Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va.; Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Port Everglades, Fla.; Miami, Fla.; Tampa, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; and Houston. 

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