A coalition of more than 100 local, state and national trade associations sent a letter to President Obama yesterday urging action to prevent an East and Gulf Coast port strike next week over intermodal container handling.

The letter urges immediate action by the White House to ensure that the lack of progress in ongoing labor contract negotiations between the International Longshoremens Association, which represents 14,500 dockworkers in East and Gulf Coast ports, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents management for shipping lines and port employers, does not result in a strike.

The bargaining is for a new master contract governing containerized cargoes - commodities shipped in 20- or 40-foot containers. The latest talks between the parties broke down Dec. 18, less than two weeks before the current contract expires on Dec. 29.

A strike was averted Oct. 1 when both sides agreed to a 90-day extension through Dec. 29 - after the U.S. elections and the holiday shopping season.

The group said that failure to reach a contract agreement would result in a coast-wide shutdown at 14 containerized ports from Maine to Texas which would have serious economy-wide impacts.

The impacted ports would include Boston; New York and New Jersey; Delaware River [Philadelphia]; Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va. [Norfolk]; Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; and Houston.

The last coast-wide longshoremen's strike was in 1977, according to Philly.com, which notes that talks broke off Tuesday over the issue of "container royalties," payments made to longshoremen based on the weight of containerized cargo. Management wants to cap those payments.

The coalition's letter to the president notes that "the region, particularly the Northeast, is still recovering from the tragic effects of superstorm Sandy. A port strike or other shutdown will only add to the economic devastation already felt by the region. Just the threat of a shutdown impacting the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports creates a level of uncertainty in a fragile economic climate which has forced many businesses to once again enact contingency plans that come at a significant cost to jobs and our economic competitiveness.

"The West Coast lockout 10 years ago cost the U.S. economy $1 billion a day and took
over six months to recover from. The East Coast and Gulf Coast ports and their customers cannot
afford a similar situation."

The coalition undersigning the letter, led by the National Retail Federation, was made up of associations representing United States manufacturers, farmers, wholesalers, retailers, importers and transportation and logistics providers, including the American Trucking Associations, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, the Intermodal Association of North America, the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference, the National Industrial Transportation League, the New Jersey Motor Truck Association and others.