WASHINGTON — The National Retail Federation today called on the U.S. Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Association to work together to avoid a one-day shutdown of East Coast and Gulf Coast ports proposed by the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA).
“Thousands of companies and millions of workers rely on these ports and any disruption to their activity even for a day could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jon Gold said. “While the union might have concerns with certain local government actions, engaging in a coastwide shutdown is not the answer. We encourage labor and management to work together and with the government to arrive at a solution that does not disrupt the efficient movement of goods through the nation’s ports.”
“We applaud the fact that the ILA and the U.S. Maritime Alliance have begun informal discussions on a contract extension well in advance of the current contract expiration, but proposing a shutdown runs counter to this spirit of cooperation and may threaten this positive action,” Gold said. “We urge the ILA to reconsider its plans and avoid damaging the image of East Coast and Gulf Coast ports as reliable business partners for retailers and other shippers.”
Maritime trade publications have reported this week that the ILA is planning a one-day shutdown and march on Washington to protest “government interference” by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and state port operators in the Southeast. No date for the proposed shutdown has been announced.
ILA spokesman Kenneth Riley, president of local Charleston, South Carolina, ILA No. 1422, told The Trucker a major grievance is the number of background checks and other hoops — including TWIC cards — that people applying to work at the ports have to go through to be hired. Port haulers have long complained about the Transportation Worker Identification Credentials or TWICs that many times don’t work and are costly.
Riley predicted that with the raising of New Jersey’s Bayonne Bridge to let larger shipping vessels go through, more and more port workers will be needed but that it’s hard to get workers who are qualified by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. He said the Waterfront Commission was “unnecessarily interfering” and is turning qualified workers away.
He said the ILA welcomes the Retail Federation and other “stakeholders’” participation in talks but in reference to the problem of qualified workers being turned away said they “can’t sit idly by and let this happen to the industry.”
He said if the issue isn’t addressed a one-day shutdown may be “inevitable.”
NRF’s most recent monthly Global Port Tracker report forecasts that imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to increase 4.6 percent during the first half of 2017 over the same period last year as the nation’s economy improves and retail sales continue to grow.
NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries.