Businesses that use the Port of Virginia are planning to shift up to 15 percent of their cargo to West Coast ports in anticipation of a possible Oct. 1 work stoppage by the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), the Virginia Port Authority said Aug. 31.
Port authority officials said freight that is currently in-transit will continue on to Virginia. The impact of cargo diversions—expected to represent between 10 and 15 percent of traffic—are not likely to be felt until October, the port authority said. The VPA owns and operates four cargo facilities in the state, including the Port of Norfolk.
Virginia's announcement comes as exporters and importers begin scrambling to find alternatives to East and Gulf Coast ports after the ILA and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) on August 22 suddenly broke off talks about a new, six-year contract to replace the current pact when it expires September 30. At press time, no new talks had been scheduled.
The ILA represents 65,000 workers at 13 ports in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
The ILA said it would present the USMX's latest contract offer next month to the union's wage negotiating committee. However, it is believed the committee will reject the pact.
Meanwhile, the International Dockworkers Council, a Barcelona, Spain-based group representing 50,000 workers, told the ILA that it is "prepared for sympathy actions" in the event of a work stoppage. In addition, a published report said that the ILA's largest local, the 900-member Local 1804 based in Newark, N.J., voted unaminomously to strike if a deal is not reached by Sept. 30.
In late July, both sides reported significant progress in key issues such as increased use of automation, jurisdiction to maintain and repair chassis equipment, and wages and benefits. But talks broke off abruptly after just one day of a scheduled three-day session in Florida. Management called the union's position "uncompromising" and "contrary to the history of cooperation" that has marked the past 35 years of contract negotiations.
USMX CEO James Capo charged the ILA with being unwilling to have "a meaningful discussion" about the need to change archaic work rules that thwart efforts to improve productivity and remove inefficiencies at the ports. ILA General President Harold J. Daggett said that although he acknowledges automation's increasing importance, it will not come at the expense of his members' wages, benefits, and job security.
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