By David Cruz
With billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs at the port and at ancillary enterprises at stake, federal mediator George Cohen announced today that both sides had agreed to a 30-day extension of their current contract. The breakthrough came after the parties came to terms on container royalties, a $4.85-per-ton of cargo fee paid to longshoremen. Until today, the longshoremen’s union had said it was non-negotiable.
Cohen’s statement today said, in part: “The agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall … agreement. While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”
Up until midday it looked like a strike was imminent. When we talked with Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee Chairman Al Coutinho, he said the impact of a work stoppage would ripple through the region.
“Here in New York, New Jersey alone, the ports support 280,000 jobs, so those 3,250 longshoremen, if they choose to go on strike, they’re going to be affecting the lives of a quarter of a million families,” said the assemblyman, “not to mention the economic output for the region. We’re talking about over half a billion dollars in cargo in New York/New Jersey alone every day.”
Everything from computers and clothes to canned goods and automobiles — 40 percent of the nation’s cargo — makes it way through the ports on the eastern seaboard. Already shippers were finding alternate routes and modes of transport for their goods, which threatened to drive up prices for everyone. With the so-called fiscal cliff looming it was a double whammy the state’s economy could ill afford.
Neither side was speaking to the media today and no details were released on what terms the parties agreed to, but one truck driver said he was dreading a work stoppage.
“I don’t know what the impact will be because it depends on how many days they’re out,” said trucker Carlos Martinez. “I’m making $250 a day, so if it’s going to be five days, it’s going to be like $1,200.”
Luckily for Martinez and thousands of others who depend on the port for their livelihood, cooler heads have prevailed at least for another month, meaning that the new year will begin without the uncertainty of a work stoppage.
This has been an exhausting year economically in New Jersey. A slow recovery, complicated by a federal budget impasse and then, of course, a natural disaster, so a 30-day extension for these talks is a bit of good news. And while things may not get better immediately, at least there’s not a port strike to make them any worse.