JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Labor negotiations between shipping companies and dock workers resume this week, but there are still fears that a strike could disrupt operations at container ports along the East and Gulf Coasts, including Jacksonville.
The deadline is December 29th. That's when the contract between International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) and the U.S. Maritime Alliance expires and it's also the date workers at 15 ports along the East and Gulf coasts expect a deal to be made over wages and royalties that affect ILA dock workers' benefits.
If a deal isn't reached by December 30th, workers might strike, causing ports that only work with ILA to completely shut down. That means cargo containing anything from clothes to furniture to agricultural merchandise would not make its scheduled delivery.
Retailers have pressured the President to use "all means necessary" to intervene, warning of a national economic emergency should a strike happen. Although a walkout would not impact cruise ships, mail, military cargo, or perishables, it would disrupt cargo containers at all 15 ports, which account for 95 percent of all container traffic to the eastern seaboard.
Since JAXPORT is a neutral landlord to the labor union and private port users, only a portion of the cargo may be affected in the case of a job action.
"If they are a container company that uses ILA labor, that will affect that private user of the port," said JAXPORT Spokesperson Nancy Rubin. "We move a lot more than just containers and of our containers only, a portion of those are handled by ILA."
JAXPORT is not a party in the dispute and Rubin says a walkout will not impact regular business.
"Our role in this situation is to keep our unimpacted businesses running safely and efficiently and to monitor the situation. Again, just to make sure everybody is safe," says Rubin.
But Florida is home to several ports that could see a disruption in cargo moving. Senator Bill Nelson said he's hopeful that the two parties will reach an agreement before the deadline.
"Well it will hurt the economy. I hope that they get it negotiated but we'll see as we get closer. Of course, the places that will hurt are the major ports and we have a number of major ports in the state of Florida," said U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Gov. Rick Scott will hold a conference call on Thursday with Florida port leaders to talk about the importance of the state's ports during negotiations.
Scott sent a letter to the president last week asking him to invoke the Taft-Hartley act to prevent possible work stoppage if an agreement is not reached.
First Coast News