JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lawmakers from Florida all the way to Washington D.C. are working to ensure the state’s ports stay open despite a looming strike among thousands of longshoremen.
The White House is urging dockworkers and shipping companies to reach agreement "as quickly as possible" on a contract extension for East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers whose existing pact expires this week.
Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich says the White House is monitoring the situation closely and urges the parties to "continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible."
Talks between the dockworkers and shipping companies broke down Dec. 18 amid unresolved issues such as wages and container royalties - the payments to union workers based on cargo weight. The International Longshoremen's Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance are expected to meet this week.
Gov. Rick Scott held a conference call Thursday with the state’s top port officials. Gov. Scott said this is a dire situation and a shutdown of any port is “not an option” for the sake of Florida families.
It’s how Ernest Smith keeps a roof over his head and food on the table. He’s spent nearly 40 years earning a living as a longshoreman at JaxPort. But his days of moving containers could be put on hold.
“This thing is going to have an effect on everybody as it relates to management, union members, their families and the general public as well,” said Smith.
About 1,200 longshoremen plan to walk off the job Saturday night if the two sides can't agree at the bargaining table.
The National Retail Federation has asked the Obama administration to use "all means necessary" to prevent a strike.
The National Retail Federation fears a strike would cause a national economic emergency - billions in commerce at countless businesses affected - from auto manufactures awaiting parts to the truckers delivering them.
“We are definitely concerned about the disruption to businesses that potentially could happen here,” said JaxPort COO Chris Kauffmann.
Gov. Rick Scott told reporters in Thursday’s news conference that a strike could lead to the shutdown of many of Florida’s ports.
“We must bring attention to the fact that the livelihoods of thousands of Florida families hangs in the balance if they do not reach an agreement by Saturday,” said Gov. Scott.
Smith, a longshoremen who went through a similar strike two decades ago, says picketing is a political gamble he and hundreds of others are willing to take. “I'll stand until it's over. If it's a year, if it's two years... that's what it means to me."
Nathaniel Gardner, Vice President of the local International Longshoremen’s Association, told Action News that if the contract in dispute expires Saturday, his union members will start picketing as early as midnight Saturday night.