East and Gulf Coast ports reach agreement with dockworkers

Dockworkers and managers at East and Gulf Coast ports have reached an agreement to avert a strike that business leaders said could cripple the U.S. economy.

The agreement, between U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) and the AFL-CIO-affiliated International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), was announced by federal mediators after contentious negotiations that had to be extended several times.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) Director George Cohen said the agreement, which is pending approval by both groups, was proof of the value of unions.

“As the negotiations have been conducted under the auspices of the FMCS, commencing last September and continuing to date, I can report that the tentative agreement reflects the culmination of good faith negotiations in which the parties successfully accommodated strongly held competing positions because of their commitment to problem solving,” Cohen said in a statement announcing the agreement.

“Again, collective bargaining has proven its worth by avoiding a potential work stoppage that would have had a severe negative impact on the nation's economy,” he continued.

The agreement was immediately cheered by groups responding the U.S. retail industry, which had called repeated on President Obama to step in to force the port negotiators to forge a deal.

A work stoppage would have shut down 14 ports on the East and Gulf coasts, which business groups said would hamstring U.S. importing and exporting.

National Retail Federation (NRF) President Matthew Shay said it was good that an agreement was reached to avert that outcome.

“The retail industry, which supports one in every four U.S. jobs, is pleased to hear that the ILA and USMX have reached a tentative, long-term master contract,” Shay said in a statement released by the NRF. “We urge the parties to quickly complete any outstanding negotiations, including local negotiations at each of the individual 14 ports, and quickly ratify the new labor agreement."

Shay added that “[I]f the tentative agreement holds, the new labor contract will bring much-needed certainty and predictability to the supply chain for retailers, manufacturers, farmers and other industries that rely on the ports to move the nation’s commerce and trade.

“The new port labor contract, which covers container operations the each of the 14 East and Gulf Coast ports, from Maine to Texas, will help make these major ports more competitive and efficient,” he said.

The federal mediation service is similarly intervening in a separate labor dispute between workers and employers at ports on the West Coast. Those discussions are being held between AFL-CIO-affiliated International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association group that represents port managers in southern California.