Longshoremen and East Coast and Gulf Coast port operators have agreed to a 30-day extension on labor negotiations, averting a potentially crippling strike that would have halted container traffic at many of the nation's largest seaports, according to a federal mediator.
The strike would also have idled cargo but not cruise ship operations at PortMiami and Port Everglades. PortMiami is the nation's 11th largest container port and a lengthy strike would be costly to the regional economy.
George H. Cohen, director for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, which has overseen negotiations that were set to expire at midnight Saturday, announced the extension on Friday. Cohen said the key sticking point – bonuses paid to its 14,650 workers on every container loaded – had been "agreed upon in principle by the parties."
"The parties have further agreed to an additional 30 days ... during which time the parties shall negotiate all remaining outstanding Master Agreement issues," he said.
The impasse had been dubbed the "container cliff," with all the incumbent warnings of dire consequences to the economy. It would have been the first walkout by longshoremen in the U.S. since 2002, when a West Coast East strike lasted for 10 days and the first such work stoppage on the East Coast since 1977.
A strike would have disrupted 40 percent of the nation's container traffic by shutting down the third- and fourth-largest U.S. ports by volume — New York/New Jersey and Savannah, Georgia, and 12 others.