JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It appears a strike that could have crippled our local economy has been diverted, for now.
The International Longshoremen Association agreed to extend its contract with the U.S. Maritime Alliance after months of stalled negotiations.
The deal averts a strike by 14,500 longshoremen at major ports on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Up to 1,200 local union members planned to walk off the job at JaxPort.
A federal mediator announced Friday that an expired contract for workers in the International Association of Longshoremen would be extended until early February while negotiations continue.
The longshoremen had been preparing for a possible strike Sunday that would probably have crippled operations at ports that handle about 40 percent of all U.S. container cargo.
The mediator says there have been major steps forward toward resolving the dispute.
Maritime attorney Robert Warren isn't surprised negotiators agreed to a last-minute measure. JaxPort pumps $19 billion into the Northeast Florida region annually. With that much at risk, Warren says the bargaining chips boil down to money.
"Every day costs money, and everybody is better served by working and moving the cargo and getting it done," said Warren. "If it's not moving, then there's a lot of people not working."
Friday's agreement brings a sigh of relief to major transportation companies like Jacksonville-based CSX. It provides rail services to businesses that employ longshoremen and a strike could halt some business at JaxPort.
Products used every day - like electronics and clothes - were in jeopardy of not getting shipped.
Warren warns Friday's deal is only a temporary fix. "As the industry changes, the nature of the longshoremen's job changes and it requires various accommodations that sometimes it only gets resolved through strike or threatened strike," said Warren.
Initially, the federal mediator announced the extension would be 30 days, until Jan. 28. Later, the union and its bargaining opponent, the U.S. Maritime Alliance, said they had agreed to extend it even further, until Feb. 6, because of the holidays.