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'Container cliff'?

Published December 20, 2012
Shipping firm says East Coast strike likely as talks break down

MIAMI, FL (BRAIN) — A major shipping logistics firm says that "the likelihood of a strike is high" after contract negotiations broke down this week between the longshoremen's union and East Coast port operators.

This fall both sides agreed to extend their contract 90 days, until Dec. 29. A strike would affect 15 ports from Gulf of Mexico up the East Coast to Massachusetts and shippers in the rest of the country have said they will increase fees during a strike.

"This is truly a ‘container cliff’ in the making." — National Retail Federation

Federal mediators had proposed another contract extension, which the ports operators, the United States Maritime Alliance, agreed to, but the union rejected on Tuesday.

"There is still time for an agreement to be reached between the parties ... however as of right now the likelihood of a strike is high," the shipping firm OEC Group told its members Thursday.

The OEC recommended that importers make every effort to get their products out of port before the 29th, noting that the Christmas holiday will increase the urgency.

"Most terminals will be closed on the 24th and 25th, which means that terminals will be congested even under normal circumstances. Therefore time is of the essence," the OEC said.

Florida-based American Classic is watching the situation closely, the company's Ellen Kast told BRAIN Thursday. However, Kast said the company "has full stock on hand."

"We received all early season shipments already in anticipation of this strike. The last shipment arrived on Dec. 18," Kast said.

The National Retail Federation wrote to President Obama this week, asking him to use "all means necessary" to prevent a strike.

"The last thing the economy needs right now is another strike, which would impact all international trade and commerce at the nation’s East and Gulf Coast container ports. This is truly a ‘container cliff’ in the making," said Jonathan Gold, the NRF's vice president of supply chain and customs policy.

Earlier this month a port strike on the West Coast was ended after a weeklong slowdown.

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