By  on December 26, 2012

WASHINGTON — The United States Maritime Alliance, or USMX, andthe International Longshoremen’s Association resumed talks Wednesday inan effort to reach a contract deal and prevent an end-of-year portstrike stretching from Maine to Texas.

George Cohen, director ofthe Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, said Monday that bothsides had agreed to return to the bargaining table at his urgingfollowing the breakdown of talks on Dec. 18 over the issue of containerroyalties, a supplemental, per-unit fee that has been in ILA contractssince the Sixties as a balance to automation. The ILA noted last weekthat USMX wants to place a cap on the amount of money that is paid toILA members through various container royalty funds annually. ContainerRoyalty is collected by the amount of tons of containerized cargo ILAmembers handle. A total of $4.85 is collected on each ton ofcontainerized cargo handled and is distributed to ILA workers as part ofa wage supplement and to the ILA members’ health-care fund.

Following the breakdown of talks, the ILA issued strike preparations for a Dec. 29 work stoppage.

OnDec. 10, ILA Wage Scale delegates rejected the USMX proposal for aMaster Contract and voted to authorize a strike when the currentextension expires. When the talks broke down last week, the USMX,representing ocean carriers and port operators, released an analysis of apotential strike at East and Gulf Coast ports, which handle about 20percent of the fashion industry’s shipments. In 2011, the 14 portshandled more than 110 million tons of import and export cargo.

“Ashutdown would wreak havoc on manufacturers, retailers, farmers andothers who depend on the ports to move their supplies and products,” theUSMX said, pointing to the country’s top importers, Wal-Mart StoresInc., Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc., and top exporters such asWeyerhaeuser, DuPont and Cargill.

“Not only would any disruptionhave serious consequences for the nation’s still-recovering economy, butit would also jeopardize the financial well-being of the ILA’s 14,500members, who would lose nearly $5 million in wages and benefits for eachday they’re out of work, or a total of $150 million in lostcompensation in just a month.”

According to the USMX analysis,the ILA’s 3,250 members working at the Port of New York and New Jerseywould lose $7.5 million a week in wages. A shutdown would also put atrisk 171,000 jobs directly related to New York and New Jersey portoperations and result in $100 million in lost revenue a month forrailroads, truckers and other port-related transportation industries,which handle 250,000 containers moving through the port each month, theUSMX said.

ILA workers at Hampton Roads, Va., would lose morethan $10 million in wages and benefits with a one-month port shutdown,and ILA members at the Savannah and Brunswick ports in Georgia wouldlose an estimated $2.3 million a week in wages and benefits, accordingto the analysis.

Other industries would be indirectly hurt by aport shutdown as well, according to USMX. For example, the impact of aone-month shutdown of the BMW assembly plant in South Carolina and theMercedes-Benz plant in Alabama, unable to get parts or cars in and outof nearby ports, could result in the combined temporary furlough of6,900 workers at the two plants and potentially affect more than 34,000workers across the country, resulting in the loss of an estimated $52million in federal, state and local tax revenues over a month.

“Whilethe overall impact of any East and Gulf Coast shutdown is yet to bedetermined, the 10-day lockout at West Coast ports in 2002 cost the U.S.economy an estimated $1 billion a day,” the USMX said.

Morerecently, the eight-day strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and LongBeach in November reportedly caused a drop of 2 percent in the volume ofcontainers compared with the same month in 2011.

The groupwarned that a work stoppage on the East and Gulf Coasts would causeshippers to divert cargo to Canada, Mexico and the West Coast.

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