The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, sent a letter to the White House warning of the possible devastation a strike could yield. According to the Journal, the trade group has asked the president to use all means necessary to resolve the standoff, including ordering an 80-day cooling off period and ordering mediation if the sides don’t come to an agreement.
In some cities, container operators were making contingency plans. In Philadelphia, customers were being asked to ship as many goods out as soon as possible. The companies are also extending shipping hours. Representatives of the local offices of PortMiami’s two largest container companies, Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company, did not return calls.
A man who answered the phone at Miami’s ILA Local No. 1416 declined to answer a reporter’s questions and hung up the phone. Calls to the union headquarters in Bergen County, N.J., went unanswered.
According to a memo issued last week by the president of the ILA, items likely to be affected by the strike are nonperishable and frozen goods like clothing and some types of fish that have a shelf life in a container. If ordered to do so, the memo reads, union members must handle and ship perishable commodities like fresh fish and flowers, military cargo and mail. Items like cars that don’t go in containers will also be shipped.
The major remaining sticking point in the contract dispute: royalties, or bonuses, paid to longshoremen for every container loaded onto a cargo ship.
The longshoremen say the bonuses are essential and in some cases supplement their income by up to $50,000 a year. Longshoremen typically earn between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, depending on overtime. Major shippers like Maersk argue the skyrocketing royalties are greatly hindering profit margins.
Royalties were first introduced to ILA members in the late 1960s as a way to protect union workers after the introduction of automated cargo. The two sides have exchanged proposals on a new six-year contract, but they appear stymied over the royalty issue.
As landlords of the property, the port authorities across the nation don’t actually have a seat at the negotiating table. But there is local representation from container companies that lease space at the port.
Representatives of two container companies — PortMiami Terminal Operation Co. general manager Carlos Arocha, and Mark Baker, who manages South Florida Container Terminal — are taking part in the negotiations. They referred questions to the U.S. Maritime Alliance for comment.