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Port strike temporarily averted as sides agree to 30-day extension

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A port strike poised to unleash economic havoc by shutting down 14 East Coast and Gulf ports at midnight Saturday was averted today when the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance agreed to extend their talks until midnight Jan. 28.

The parties also said a key issue involving the payment of container royalties to the dockworkers has been resolved in principle. “Agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement,” said George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that mediated the talks. “While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”

The United States Maritime Alliance is a consortium of container carriers, employers and port associations serving the East and Gulf coasts, and represents management in contract talks with the ILA.

A key issue in the labor dispute is the Alliance’s desire to renegotiate the $4.85-per-ton container royalty fee that funds longshoremen’s benefits.

In a statement, National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said the group was pleased by the extension, but “we continue to urge both parties to remain at the negotiating table until a long-term contract agreement is finalized.”

“A coast-wide port shutdown is not an option,” Shay said. “It would have severe economic ramifications for the local, national and even global economies, and wreak havoc on the supply chain.”

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