MIAMI
12/27/2012 04:16 pm ET

Rick Scott Warns Port Strike Could Endanger Livelihoods Of Florida Families

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is scrambling to prevent a work stoppage at Sunshine State ports in the coming days, warning the consequences could be dire.

The International Longshoreman's Association, the largest dockworkers union on the East Coast, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance have so far failed to agree on a new contract, which could lead to an indefinite strike on container cargo work when the group's current contract extension expires Saturday.

During a Thursday conference call with the directors and managers of Florida's largest ports Thursday, Scott stressed the impact such a move could have on local commercial interests. According to the state, cargo and cargo-related activity at Florida's seaports generates more than 550,000 direct and indirect jobs, contributing approximately $66 billion in economic value to the economy.

"The livelihood of thousands of Florida families lies in the balance," Scott remarked, noting jobs would be affected from trucking to warehouses to manufacturing. "Florida's largest ports could be shut down. This is an issue of not just Florida importance but of national importance."

Among the ports that would be most affected by the work stoppage include Jacksonville's Jaxport, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, and PortMiami. Any strike would affect only container cargo business, not cruise ships or perishable shipments, reports the Associated Press.

Bill Johnson, director of PortMiami and chairman of the Florida Ports Council, echoed Scott's concern.

"A disruption of cargo flow in and out of our ports would have a negative effect on the national economy and reverse any gains we have made in job growth this year. PortMiami, along with all Florida Ports, is working with Governor Scott’s office in asking that labor talks continue.”

Scott sent a letter to President Barack Obama last Thursday urging an invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which would impose a "cooling off" period in contract negotiation and keep ports operational for an additional 90 days. Scott said Thursday he has not received a response from the President but remains "very optimistic," according to the Bradenton Herald.

The AP reports that negotiations are stuck over royalties:

Port operators and shipping companies, represented by the Marine Alliance, want to cap the royalties at last year's levels. They say the royalties have morphed into a huge expense unrelated to their original purpose and amount to a bonus averaging $15,500 a year for East Coast workers already earning more than $50 an hour.

The longshoremen's union says the payments are an important supplemental wage, not a bonus.

The union represents 14,500 workers at more than a dozen ports extending south from Boston and handling 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas, about 110 million tons' worth.

A similar standoff over ports in the Pacific Northwest narrowly avoided a strike Thursday as dockworkers agreed to remain on the job after rejected a "last, best" offer from management.

But an 8-day strike did paralyze the United State's busiest ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach earlier this month when clerks demanded a guarantee their jobs would not be outsourced. An estimated $760 million in cargo failed to move through the ports each day during the stoppage, officials told the AP.

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