Gov. Rick Scott talks to ports about looming strike

Contract between shipping lines and longshoreman expires Saturday night

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In a conference call with executives from Florida's ports Thursday morning to discuss how a possible dockworker strike would affect the state, Gov. Rick Scott said he has not heard from President Barack Obama on a request to use executive power to prevent a possible work stoppage.

The deadline for an agreement is Saturday night and a strike would bring to a halt all moving of containerized freight on and off about 60 ships a week in Florida.

"We are very optimistic that that president will act, but I have not gotten any response yet," Scott said.

The governor's office said cargo-related activity currently generates more than 550,000 direct and indirect jobs in Florida, and contributes approximately $66 billion in economic value to the economy.

"The livelihood of thousands of Florida families lies in the balance," Scott told the port executives. "Florida's largest ports could be shut down. This is an issue of not just Florida importance, but of national importance."

Thousands of union workers -- 1,200 in Jacksonville -- could be idled if talks between shipping companies and the International Longshoremen's Association break down.  Negotiations on wages, health care and shipping container royalties have been ongoing since March. The most recent contract expired in October, but the parties agreed to a 90 day extension that ends Saturday at midnight.

The strike would affect the movement of containerized freight at all East Coast and Gulf Coast seaports.  The biggest impact would be to the New York-New Jersey ports, which handled shipments valued at $208 billion last year.

Last week the ILA sent a memo to its local chapters last week urging them to prepare for a strike. On Dec. 21, Scott sent a letter to Obama, asking him to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to prevent a strike.

Thursday's conference call included port leaders from Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Manatee County, Palm Beach and Port Canaveral.

Jacksonville Port Authority's Chief Operating Officer Chris Kauffmann said that while not all of Jacksonville's port tenants use ILA labor, a strike would have a tremendous impact on both the import and export supply chain and affect thousands of jobs in Northeast Florida.

"We are definably concerned about the disruption to business that potentially could happen here, and hope to avoid it altogether," Kauffmann said.

Paul Anderson, who just left JaxPort to become executive director of Tampa's port, said "it's really important for the people in our country and our state to recognize that a strike this Saturday combined with ongoing negotiations between President Obama and Congress could be a 1-2 combination knockout punch for our nation's economy."

Rep. Perry Thurston, Democratic Caucus leader of the Florida House, released a statement Thursday sharing the concern that a port strike is a serious concern to Florida's economy and jobs, but found it curious that Scott would turn to the president for help.

"We note with interest Governor Scott's request that the federal government involve itself in the labor dispute<" Thurston wrote. "We hope that the governor now turns his attention to other critical family needs in Florida."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.