* Temporary contract extension ends Dec. 29
* Florida governor asks for "cooling off" period
By Chris Reese
NEW YORK, Dec 23 Dock workers on the U.S.
Atlantic and Gulf coasts moved closer to a potential strike next
week even though Florida's governor asked President Barack Obama
to order a cooling-off period if the nearly 15,000 longshoremen
walk off the job.
The International Longshoremen's Association, the union
representing the dock workers, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance,
the group of shippers and port operators, have been bargaining
since March, but reportedly remain far from a deal covering
cargo handling at 15 ports on the U.S. Gulf and eastern coasts.
The employment contract between the two groups expired at
the end of September, but the sides agreed to a 90-day extension
of terms that runs out on Dec. 29. The union has said if the
contract expires without a resolution it could call a strike a
In a letter this week, Florida's Republican Governor Rick
Scott asked President Obama to invoke federal law and order a
cooling-off period if the longshoremen go on strike.
Despite Scott's request, the International Longshoremen's
Association was continuing to operate with the Dec. 29 deadline
in mind, Jim McNamara, a spokesman for the longshoremen's union,
said on Sunday.
"We have the deadline and we are waiting to hear from the
federal mediator," McNamara said, adding that the union expects
to "continue negotiations until the end of (Dec.) 29, so that is
where we are at right now."
Spokesmen for the U.S. Maritime Alliance were not
immediately available for comment.
A White House spokesman was also not immediately available
to comment on whether President Obama would consider the request
for a cooling-off period.
Scott said in a letter to Obama, dated Thursday, that the
president had the power under 1947's Taft-Hartley Act to prevent
or interrupt a work stoppage at the ports. Presidents Richard
Nixon and George W. Bush both used Taft-Hartley, which calls for
80-day cooling-off periods and mediation, Scott said.
Florida ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale would be directly
hit by a strike or lockout, but a stoppage would also rattle
overall transport and trade, which accounts for 550,000 jobs in
the state and $66 billion in economic activity, Scott told
The Dec. 29 deadline looms as nearly 3,000 union dock
workers at four Pacific Northwest ports voted on Friday and
Saturday on a "final" contract offer presented by grain
shippers. Union leaders had urged a rejection of the proposal,
although results of the vote were not yet available on Sunday.