JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Thousands of longshoremen in Florida -- about 1,200 who work at Jacksonville's ports -- could walk off the job in five days when their contract expires.
The International Longshoremen's Association, which represents the dock workers, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which is made up of shippers and port operators, have negotiated since March without reaching agreement.
The union is battling management over wages, health care, and shipping container royalties.
The ILA sent a memo to its local chapters last week urging them to prepare for a strike. The situation is so dire, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to President Barack Obama last week pleading for him to use his executive powers to order the dock workers to stay on the job.
Scott said a strike could be devastating to Florida and the rest of the country. He used the example of a strike of West Coast ports in 2002 that cost the economy an estimated $10 billion.
Garrick Austin, who has been a member of the ILA chapter in Talleyrand since April, said the work is good and it pays well.
"They're going to have to eventually (work things out)," Austin said Monday. "Somebody has got to cover the work."
Worker Isaiah Williams IV feels the union is doing the right thing, and he's prepared to walk away from his job if it means financial gains down the road.
If monetary means comes to a halt, to bring on greater monetary means, then we're willing to take on that sacrifice," said Williams, an ILD member for nine years. "I mean it's not just about our livelihood, it's about our kids' livelihoods. Future generations."
The Jacksonville Port Authority is strictly an interested observer in the negotiations.
"Our role in a strike situation would be to monitor the situation closely and keep our unaffected businesses running safely and efficiently," JaxPort spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said in a statement released Monday.
The deadline for an agreement is Saturday night.
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