Port strike averted for time being

Port strike averted for time being

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

An economically-crippling strike at 15 ports on the East and Gulf Coasts has been averted for now, and paper exporters are breathing a sigh of relief.

Since March, the United States Maritime Alliance, representing the East and Gulf Coast longshore industry, and the International Longshoremen's Association, which represents longshore workers, have been in negotiations over a new contract. The existing contract was set to expire Sept. 30, 2012, but was extended several times as both sides attempted to forge a new pact.

On Dec. 19, with negotiations still at an impasse, the ILA began preparing for its first strike on the East and Gulf ports since 1977. Effective Dec. 30, the strike would have resulted in 14,500 Longshoremen refusing to load or unload containers, effectively halting activity at ports from Houston to Boston.

However, on Dec. 28, both sides announced that they would extend the current contract for another 30 days and that they had made progress on negotiations. Both sides also reported moving closer toward an agreement regarding the issue of container royalty payments to workers, which were first instituted in 1960 as a way to protect ILA members from job losses caused as a result of automatization at ports.

Dan Cotter, a vice president at Cellmark overseeing recovered paper sales, wrote in an email exchange with Resource Recycling that his company moves several thousand tons a week of recovered paper through East Coast ports. He wrote that business almost stopped during the week leading up to the deadline. With the threat of a strike gone for now, he stated that companies are rushing out to buy and load tons in January in case negotiations between the Maritime Alliance and the ILA break down and a strike goes into effect in February.

"There is no way we can work around a strike. If it happens, all business stops for everyone," he wrote, adding that there is really nothing that can be done to prepare for a strike except for trying to get as much material out before work stops.

Vivian Ou, CEO of Railson International Inc., the company-owned supplier to Lee & Man, China's second largest recovered paper consumer, wrote in an email exchange with Resource Recycling that Chinese demand for paper is weak, with most mills taking down time during the Chinese New Year. In order to prepare for the strike, she wrote that Railson bought more paper in November and purchased more paper from the West Coast.

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