Potential longshoremen's strike averted for 30 days

Contract between shipping lines and longshoreman expires Saturday night

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Containerized freight comprises the bulk of business for the Jacksonville Port Authority.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A potential year-end strike deadline that would have idled 14,500 longshoremen along the Gulf Coast and up the East Coast -- including 1,200 in Jacksonville -- was pushed back 30 days on Friday when the International Longshoremen's Association and United State Maritime Alliance agreed to extend their contract negotiations.

Shipments of products as varied as flat-screen TVs, sneakers and snow shovels shipped as containerized freight could sit idle at sea or get rerouted if a wide-ranging work stoppage takes place

"We welcome today's news that a contract extension has been reached. However, we continue to urge both parties to remain at the negotiating table until a long-term contract agreement is finalized," said Matthew Shay of the National Retail Federation.

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

Gov. Rick Scott'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 port executives in a conference call on Thursday. "Florida's largest ports could be shut down. This is an issue of not just Florida importance, but of national importance."

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 ended Saturday at midnight.

Friday's agreement extends those talks until midnight Jan. 27.

The biggest impact would be to the New York-New Jersey ports, which handled shipments valued at $208 billion last year.  The strike would affect 15 ports that move 100 million tons of goods each year, or about 40 percent of the nation's containerized cargo traffic. Losing them to a shutdown, even for a few days, could cost the economy billions of dollars.

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.

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."

Copyright 2012 by News4Jax.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.