The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) contract for East and Gulf Coast dockworkers expires on 30 September, with the union saying that strike action is possible if outstanding issues over productivity and efficiency improvements are not resolved with employers represented by the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX).
A port shutdown on the US East and Gulf Coast could be disastrous for the container shipping industry; ports in the region handled 20.7m teu in 2011, representing 48.5% of the total container traffic passing through US ports.
According to Alphaliner data, the total weekly capacity of container services calling at US East and Gulf Coast ports reaches over 287,000 teu, of which the main FE-USEC routes account for 40%, while the Europe-USEC routes account for 27% at these ports (excluding break-bulk services).
The threat comes just five weeks before the US presidential elections, which would make imposing a ‘Taft- Hartley Act’ injunction, sending workers back to work for an 80-day “cooling-off” period, unlikely.
In the light of the possible strike action, some shippers have accelerated peak season shipments, although, as yet, there is no evidence of any significant Far East cargo being diverted to West Coast ports.