Are you ready for a fiscal cliff? The union bosses of an estimated 14,500 workers at 15 ports are preparing to send the economy plunging back into recession over productivity and efficiency rules changes. You read that right. Much more on that in a moment. But first, here's what's at stake.
The International Longshoremen's Association's (ILA) grip extends from Boston to Texas to Florida and all points across the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The New York-New Jersey ports -- which handle cargo valued at $208 billion -- could come to a standstill. National Retail Federation executive Jonathan Gold issued a desperate statement: "The last thing the economy needs right now is another strike, which would impact all international trade and commerce at the nation's East and Gulf Coast container ports. This is truly a 'container cliff' in the making."
Retailers have begged Big Labor-lovin' President Obama to intervene. Good luck with that. The cozy White House powwow with union bosses immediately after Election Day tells you all you need to know about which side Obama champions.
The United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), which represents 14 Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, has been bracing for a union-spearheaded shutdown since the summer, when labor negotiations fell apart. The ILA's current contract expired on Sept. 30. Federal mediators granted a 90-day extension that ends on Dec. 29. ILA President Harold Daggett won a unanimous green light earlier this month to call a strike if industry leaders don't give in completely to the union's demands. According to my sources, despite overwhelming industry concessions on wages and benefits, port watchers view the likelihood of a strike at "probably 70 to 85 percent now."
Don't believe the union sob stories. ILA members are among the highest paid union workers in the country. Starting pay for dockworkers is $20 an hour, with a top straight-time pay rate of $32 an hour. Longevity and overtime bonuses are generous, with ILA members earning an average of more than $124,000 a year in wages and benefits.