White House Urges Port Parties To Resolve Labor Dispute

Shipments of products as varied as flat-screen TVs, sneakers and snow shovels could sit idle at sea or get rerouted, at great time and expense, if more than 14,000 longshoremen go on strike as threatened — a wide-ranging work stoppage that would immediately close cargo ports on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to container ships.

The White House on Friday urged dock workers, port owners and shippers to resolve a labor dispute that threatens to deteriorate into a strike that could affect 15 ports on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Reuters reports.

Dock workers, port operators and shippers face a deadline on Saturday for resolving the dispute.

Federal mediators have been trying to push negotiations along, but there has been no word from either side on the progress of the talks since Dec. 24. As recently as Dec. 19, the president of the longshoremen, Harold Daggett, said the talks weren’t going well and that a strike was expected.

The International Longshoremen’s Association, the union representing the dock workers, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, a group of shippers and port operators, are deadlocked over an employment contract that expired at the end of September but has been extended. The union has said that if the contract expires without a resolution, it could call a strike a day later.

The White House had no comment on whether the president would consider invoking federal law to impose a cooling off period. Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, asked President Obama to invoke the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which allows the president to prevent or interrupt a work stoppage.

The law calls for an 80-day cooling off period and mediation.