09/26/2012 01:48 pm ET

Rumble On the Docks: Contract Pits Pinstriped Pinheads Against Roughneck Roustabouts

Last week, as the Chicago teachers’ strike was puttering out of the news cycle and the National Football League’s lockout of its referees was thundering in, a federal labor mediator announced to little fanfare that the International Longshoremen’s Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance had agreed, “for the good of the country,” to extend the master contract governing dock work from Maine to Texas for 90 days.

The media barely covered the news, but the implications were enormous. If the two sides had failed to reach a deal before the existing contract expired on Sept. 30, the resulting chaos would have touched not only the 20,000-some longshoremen who punch a clock on the East Coast, but thousands of truckers and railroad men, mechanics and warehouse workers, and the many millions of Americans who buy and sell automobiles, home electronics, designer jeans, toothpaste and anything else that’s manufactured on foreign shores. Pretty much everyone.

Three months from now, it could still happen.

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