By Chris Gillis
Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but today’s American shippers appear to be much better informed and prepared to work around potential breakdowns in their supply chains — even those created by labor disruptions.
This is certainly the case with the potential for a dockworkers’ strike on the U.S. East and Gulf coasts if the International Longshoremen’s Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents the marine terminal operators, fail to forge a new master contract before the existing one’s Sept. 30 expiration.
Without a contract, the ILA could flex its collective muscle by shutting down more than half of the nation’s seaports to container traffic, not only hurting the shipping industry but harming an already fragile U.S. economy.
In recent months, Harold Daggett, the fiery ILA president, has tempered his words about potential dock strikes. Yet the threats of a strike may intensify in the weeks prior to the contract’s expiration. On Aug. 22, USMX abruptly broke off talks with the ILA when the employers declared they would not cede ground on areas of terminal efficiency improvement that were previously discussed.
Informal surveys and discussions with shippers by our publication reveal that the ongoing ILA labor negotiations are indeed top on their radar. However, there’s also a sense of collective calm among them.
Shippers’ intelligence is telling them that, if an East and Gulf coast port strike does occur, it will probably be short-lived — several days max — or will be thwarted altogether by pressure from the Obama administration which is preparing for an intense reelection bid for the White House.
Most of these same shippers also vividly recall the West Coast dock labor lockout of 2002, which lasted 10 days, hobbling many corporate supply chains in the United States for months afterwards. They won’t be caught off guard that way again.
While some shippers have opted not to worry about an ILA strike, others have decided to temporarily shift some inbound cargoes to West Coast ports, where they can use mini-landbridge transport services to reach East and Gulf coast markets, at least until the new ILA contract is secured.
No matter what choices shippers make to prepare for a potential ILA dock strike, they are utterly determined not to panic.
By Chris Gillis