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US Dockworkers Threaten Strike After Canceling Labor Talks

APM terminals in the Port of Rotterdam

Dockworkers at America’s East Coast and Gulf Coast seaports have canceled labor talks scheduled for this week, raising the threat of a potential strike later this year. 

The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) called off the negotiations scheduled today (Tuesday, June 11) in Newark, N.J.

It is in protest against the use of automated machinery at certain ports.

The union claims this violates previous labor agreements.

This withdrawal marks a contentious start to the negotiations to secure a new contract for over 45,000 dockworkers at ports from Maine to Texas. 

The current agreement expires on September 30. 

employer

A strike at that time could disrupt the flow of goods into the country before the holiday season.

It could also pose a significant risk to the American economy just before the presidential election.

ILA’s leader, Harold Daggett, has previously vowed the members will strike if a new contract isn’t secured before the current one expires. 

An ILA spokesman said: “Harold Daggett is again alerting all locals to be prepared for a strike on October 1st.”

The National Retail Federation (NRF), representing major importers, urged both parties to resume negotiations.

It is calling for the Biden administration to facilitate the talks. 

A strike could disrupt the flow of goods into the country before the holiday season

Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain, said: “It is critical that significant disruptions, including labor strikes, are avoided to minimize any negative economic impact.”

The union canceled the talks after discovering a terminal operator owned by Danish carrier A.P Moller-Maersk used autonomous equipment to process trucks at ports, including Alabama’s Port of Mobile. 

Union leaders insist they will not negotiate until this issue is addressed.

The US Labor Department did not respond to requests for comment.

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A spokesman for Maersk’s terminal operator, APM Terminals, said the company “is in full compliance” with the union contract. 

He expressed disappointment that the ILA had made details of the negotiations public to gain leverage.

The United States Maritime Alliance, representing ocean carriers and port terminal operators, declined to comment.

This contentious beginning mirrors last year's negotiations on the West Coast, where employers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union reached a six-year agreement.

It was after over a year of difficult talks that required the Biden administration’s intervention.

Automation remains a critical issue in longshore labor talks. 

Daggett has pledged to fight against automated machinery that could replace American jobs, accusing the Biden administration of allowing foreign-owned carriers to implement such technology. 

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