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September 20, 2012 - Port Contract Talks Extended Through December, Strike Avoided

After sitting down with federal mediators, labor and management from East Coast and Gulf Coast ports today agreed to continue contract talks through the end of the  year, avoiding a strike that could have disrupted retail supply chains in just over a week.

“This extension will provide the parties an opportunity to focus on the outstanding core issues in a deliberate manner apart from the pressure of an immediate deadline,” Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen said. “In taking this significant step, the parties emphasized that they are doing so for the good of the country to avoid any interruption in interstate commerce.”

Negotiations broke down in August and at least two International Longshoremen’s Association locals voted to authorize a strike when the current contract expires September 30. But the ILA and the United States Maritime Alliance met for the first time in a month this week, and agreed today to a 90-day extension of the contract that will allow talks to continue.

NRF welcomed the agreement because a strike would have come during the peak of the shipping cycle for retailers’ annual holiday shopping season, the industry’s busiest time of the year.

“This extension should provide for a stable holiday shipping and shopping season,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “It is still critically important that USMX and ILA remain at the negotiation table to hammer out a final contract.”

With the holiday season on the line, some retailers have already brought merchandise into the country early or begun to activate contingency plans to move shipments to the West Coast or provide other alternatives. Strike or no strike, NRF’s Global Port Tracker report is expecting retailers to import 8.2 percent more merchandise this year than last year.

© 2012 National Retail Federation