A U.S. Coast Guard cutter patrols the Savannah River while the USNS Mendonca is loaded with a cargo of Army vehicals and containers in Savannah, Ga. - 

Jeremy Hobson: Here in the U.S., port officials up and down the East Coast are frantically negotiating with longshoremen to avoid a strike that could happen at the end of the month. A work stoppage by the people who unload container ships would force cargo to be re-routed and could cause economic pain across the country.

Jim Burress reports from station WABE in Atlanta.

Jim Burress: That's because one out of every 12 jobs in Georgia is linked to ports in Savannah and nearby Brunswick. Jeffrey Humphreys is a University of Georgia economist. He says the market could weather a short strike. But a long one?

Jeffrey Humphreys: Indeed, I think a prolonged port strike would have the potential to tip the U.S. economy back into a recession.

A shutdown would hit ports from Maine to Florida, slowing delivery of everything from Mercedes-Benzes to mangoes.

Humphreys: The shelves could start looking pretty sparse at places like Walmart and Target.

Merchants are already shifting some orders. Mitch Paull heads merchandising and logistics for Aaron's, a national rent-to-own chain.

Mitch Paull: We bring the things through Houston or a West Coast port over onto the East Coast.

The added mileage means added costs. The longshoremen and port authorities have until the end of the month to resolve their differences.

I'm Jim Burress for Marketplace.