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Friday, December 28, 2012 - 8:03am

Port Workers Extend Contract, Avert Strike

The International Longshoreman’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance agreed Friday to extend their current contract for 30 days, averting a looming dockworker strike Sunday at 12:01 a.m.

The strike would have idled more than 14,000 dockworkers at 15 East Coast and Gulf of Mexico ports, including the nation’s third-busiest port in Savannah.

A statement from federal mediators announced the extension. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service also said the two parties have agreed in principle on the container royalties for dockworkers. Those are payments to union workers based on cargo weight and were a major sticking point in negotiations.

“What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement,” said FMCS Director George Cohen in the statement. “While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”

Cohen said his agency would not disclose the royalty agreement since negotiations are ongoing.

“As with any negotiation, both parties come in with expectations, and as long as they come in with the right frame of mind, they’re going to find a position of commonality and get a contract going forward. I feel very confident now that both parties are of that mindset,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, which is not involved in the dispute.

“[It’s] great news for all those who rely on our ports -- the 350,000 Georgians that rely on port-related activity for their jobs everyday,” Foltz said. “All these trucks coming in and out of our port are going to continue to move next week, so we’re real excited about the news.”

Had there been a strike, Foltz said his staff would have focused on training and working with shipping customers to minimize impacts.

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