Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Freight Forwarding Groups Praise Mediation as Container Shipping Strike Threat Lifted

Tentative Agreement Suspends Union Action at US East Coast and Gulf Ports
Shipping News Feature

US – Just two days before the employment contract between the US Maritime Alliance (USMX) and the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) was due to expire, having been already twice extended, an uneasy truce has been reached with both sides referring to a ‘tentative’ agreement for a new six year term of Master Agreement which now needs formal ratification by both parties. The USMX numbers not only the ten largest container shipping lines amongst its members but also major East Coast and Gulf ports stretching from New York to Florida and eight major cargo handling groups. The news was welcomed globally, not least by international freight forwarding representatives.

In September we were bewailing the breakdown of talks following fierce discussions between the two sides but but by last month things had reached a better place prompting the extension of the existing contract whilst the matter was negotiated. Until the last minute pronouncement by Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen that resolution at last seemed a real possibility the fifteen ports involved were facing the first strike in thirty five years to hit the Eastern Seaboard.

Cohen said he could reveal no details of the terms under consideration as they would require ratification by both parties as well as agreements being reached in a number of local union negotiations. He added however that there would be no interruptions to any port operations whilst the matters were finalised.

The announcement was greeted both in America and across the world, in the UK the British International Freight Association (BIFA) welcomed the news with director general Peter Quantrill, saying:

"By removing some of the uncertainty, this tentative agreement is good news for our members; as well as anyone else involved in physical trade with the USA; and shows that mediation can deliver results. It would appear that it will business as usual through the container ports that might have been affected had the tentative agreement not been reached, which makes the news all the more welcome.”