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East Coast port strike looms

A general view of the Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor with a ship passing in front of it as photographed on April 27, 2012 from the Red Hook section of Broooklyn, New York.

The stuff we all buy – shoes, clothes, tools and nails – could all be harder to come by starting soon.

Longshoremen on the East Coast and shipping companies and port operators have until midnight Sunday to work out a new contract.

If the two sides don’t get a new deal seaports from the Gulf to Maine will shutdown.

This potential strike – like most– comes down to wages and benefits.

In this case, owners want to limit something called container royalty payments.

Cornell Labor Professor Richard Hurd says workers are digging in.

“They are a union that’s been able to maintain good benefits for their members because of the existence of this royalty payment,” he says.

As for shipping companies and port owners, Hurd says they are worried about competition from non-union ports and want to rein in costs.

The 14 East Coast facilities handled 110 million tons of cargo last year, that’s 40% of the cargo traffic nationwide.

According to the union, workers would continue to unload certain products like fruits, vegetables and cars, but they won’t unload retail goods and raw materials.

Chief Economist Chris Low at FTN Financial says the home construction industry could feel the pinch.

“These are companies like Home Depot and Lowes, because their Christmas comes in April – the beginning of the homebuilding season. If the strike lingers long enough, they may find that their shelves are not stocked in time,” he says.

If a deal is not reached, the East Coast will see its first dock workers strike since the 1970’s.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.
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