It is good news for manufacturers that the Office Clerical Unit Local 63 (OCU) and the marine terminal employers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reached an agreement this week that ended an eight-day work stoppage.

However, more trouble looms on the other side of the country at the East and Gulf Coast Ports as the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) continues its contentious negotiations with the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX). While these talks are being held under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the outlook does not appear to be positive.

The longshore labor unions, especially on the West Coast, have used work stoppage and slowdown tactics successfully during contract talks to make gains in their contracts, ranging from as far back as the 1971 International Longhshore Warehouse Union (ILWU) strike that Nixon ended after 134 days, to this week’s events with the OCU.  In 2002, the ILWU lockout came at a cost of $1 billion a day to the U.S. economy and eventually delivered to the union what one leader described as “the richest contract we’ve ever negotiated.”   

The maritime industry has often noted the difference of style and culture between ILA and the ILWU, but Mr. Daggett, the current President of the ILA, has made strong statements and new commitments to maritime labor solidarity that show a willingness to be more pugnacious. The success of the ILA in negotiating its contracts with management going back to 1977 without any interruption is likely to be challenged in the next few weeks.

Just as with the West Coast ports, manufacturers need the East Coast ports to be open for business.  With a weak economy and a fiscal cliff on the horizon, manufacturers need the ports to ship and receive critical commodities and finished products in order to keep businesses running and people employed.

The ripple effect of a strike or slow-down would lead to curtailed economic growth, lost jobs and higher prices on goods for all Americans. Manufacturers have faith in the federal mediation process and hope when the parties sit down at the table next week, they keep this in the forefront of their minds. Also, today a group of industry groups, including the NAM, sent a letter to both the ILA and USMA to continue negotiating with the goal of finalizing an agreement without disrubtions to the supply chain.

Robyn Boerstling is director of transportation and infrastructure policy, National Association of Manufacturers.

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