The nation’s retailers, manufacturers and farmers are bracing for a possible strike that could idle U.S. ports all along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast.
The walkout could begin as early as Sunday after the midnight Saturday expiration of a 90-day extension of a contract between the International Longshoremen’s Association and several shipping lines, terminal operators and port associations.
It would be the first strike by the ILA in 35 years.
U.S. military shipments and so-called “bulk” cargo that is not carried in 20-foot to 40-foot long steel cargo containers would not be affected. But the vast majority of the goods sold by U.S. retailers would be affected, as would a portion of the country’s agricultural exports.
Until negotiations broke down last week, the union and the U.S. Maritime Alliance Ltd. — a group of ocean cargo shipping lines, cargo terminal operators and port associations at 14 U.S. harbors — had been trying to iron out terms of a new six-year contract.
One economist who tracks international trade called the dispute a contest of wills between some of the world’s biggest cargo operators and one of the nation’s strongest labor unions.