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National Retail Federation applauds tentative ports labor pact

February 02, 2013|By Ronald D. White
  • The Monrovian container ship Irenes Rainbow arrives at the Port of New Orleans just before sunrise in New Orleans. The union for longshoremen along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico has agreed to a tentative deal on a labor contract after several months of negotiations.
The Monrovian container ship Irenes Rainbow arrives at the Port of New Orleans… (Dave Grunfeld / The Times-Picayune…)

The National Retail Federation is applauding a tentative contract agreement between the union that represents 14 East Coast and Gulf coast seaports and an alliance of shipping lines, terminal operators and port associations.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced late Friday night that a deal had been reached between the International Longshoremens Assn. and the U.S. Maritime Alliance.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed because of the sensitive nature of the talks, said George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The mediators have been involved in trying to broker a deal for the last several months. The latest of three contract extensions had been due to expire in just four days.

Cohen said, "Out of respect for the parties' ratification processes, and consistent with the agency's long-standing confidentiality policy, we will not disclose any details concerning the substantive provisions that have been reached."

Retailers, manufacturers, farmers and distributors had been clamoring for months for both sides to reach an agreement.

They argued, among other things, that a strike at ports that handle more than 40% of the nation's seaborne trade would cripple the nation's economic recovery.

“Throughout the process, the National Retail Federation has stressed the vital economic importance of keeping the ports open to international trade and commerce," said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the federation.

Shay added, "Our ports and the cargo that flows through them, be it automobiles or ottomans, are truly our economic lifeline to the world."

But the deal is still tentative and must be ratified by rank-and-file members. The ILA, which is the nation's oldest dockworker union, still hadn't removed its "Strike Preparations" link from its website as of Saturday afternoon.

Cohen said there was still much work to be done.

"The tentative agreement is subject to the ratification procedures of both parties and, as well, to agreements being achieved in a number of local union negotiations.  Those local negotiations are ongoing and will continue without interruption to any port operation," Cohen said.

Labor battles were fought on most of the the nation's waterfronts over the last several months. That included an eight-day strike by the separate International Longshore and Warehouse Union that closed parts of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

In the Pacific Northwest, longshoremen have rejected a contract offer from grain terminal operators who have threatened to lock them out of the terminals.

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