MOL Benefactor

The National Retail Federation on Thursday called on the U.S. Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Association to work together to avoid a one-day shutdown of East Coast and Gulf Coast ports proposed by the ILA.

There were reports in maritime trade publications this week that the ILA is planning a one-day shutdown and march on Washington to protest “government interference” by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and state port operators in the Southeast. No date for the proposed shutdown has been announced. Neither the ILA or USMX returned a request for comment.

“Thousands of companies and millions of workers rely on these ports and any disruption to their activity even for a day could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy,” said Jonathan Gold, the NRF‘s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “While the union might have concerns with certain local government actions, engaging in a coastwide shutdown is not the answer.”

Gold said NRF encourages labor and management to work together and with the government to arrive at a solution that doesn’t disrupt the efficient movement of goods through the nation’s ports.

“We applaud the fact that the ILA and the U.S. Maritime Alliance have begun informal discussions on a contract extension well in advance of the current contract expiration, but proposing a shutdown runs counter to this spirit of cooperation and may threaten this positive action,” Gold said. “We urge the ILA to reconsider its plans and avoid damaging the image of East Coast and Gulf Coast ports as reliable business partners for retailers and other shippers.”

Last month, ILA president Harold Daggett threw a barb into contract talks with the USMX. In a letter to ILA members, Daggett said the union representing 65,000 longshoremen on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Great Lakes, major U.S. rivers, Puerto Rico and Eastern Canada, said the ILA will oppose fully automated terminals and put greater emphasis on local contract bargaining.

He said major ports like Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va., and Charleston, S.C., were without local agreements for long periods months after the master contract took effect.

“The ILA will make certain that ILA members at all ports are satisfied with their local agreements before we ask them to ratify the entire contract package,” he said.

The two sides started negotiations on a contract extension last year, largely to avoid what happened on the West Coast in 2015. Prolonged contract talks on the West Coast lasted 10 months and caused major congestion and delays at 29 Pacific ports early last year.

NRF’s most recent monthly Global Port Tracker report forecasts that imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to increase 4.6 percent during the first half of 2017 over the same period last year as the nation’s economy improves and retail sales continue to grow.