The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) are continuing to meet with their current, twice-extended contract due to expire at the end of Wednesday, Feb. 6.
While some executives said they were encouraged that talks were continuing, other sources warned only modest progress has been made.
"I think it is a very good sign that they are still talking," said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, during an interview with American Shipper
Thursday morning. "I think there is still a lot of skepticism and concern out there, rightfully so. But every day they are at the table, I'm more optimistic that they will come to some sort of agreement."
The ILA and USMX representatives, who are meeting with the assistance of officials from the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, had scheduled talks for Tuesday through Thursday. While neither the USMX nor ILA immediately responded to queries on whether talks were continuing, several management sources confimed the two sides were meeting Friday morning.
The ILA has professed its willingness to meet "around the clock" in a statement on its Facebook page.
One source said while the two sides were apart, management had presented another offer on Thursday afternoon.
Several executives said issues having to do with work rules in the Port of New York and New Jersey remain a major sticking point.
One said that there has been no forward progress on those issues since the two sides began meeting this summer. Another said there was some modest progress in negotiations about repair of equipment.
Meanwhile, ocean carriers are urging shippers to evacuate their loaded containers from terminals and return empties in advance of a strike. One carrier executive noted surprisingly there wasn't a "mad rush" to retrieve cargo in December when the second extension's deadline loomed.
Another carrier executive explained that if a shipper is being charged for demurrage on a container or other piece of equipment when a strike begins, most shipping lines will charge them demurrage for the entire period that a strike lasts, where as if a container is still on "free time" they will not be charged because they cannot return the box to a closed terminal. (Shippers need to speak to their carriers to find out what their sitution is.)
Carriers would also like empty containers back in advance of a strike, the executive said, as they may be better able to position equipment for the eventual restart of service.
If a strike occurs, carrier executives said the likelihood of cargo being rerouted to their final destination via Canadian or West Coast ports is slim. Instead, carriers are likely to have ships sit at anchor and wait for ports to reopen or discharge cargo in foreign ports in places like the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Panama for repositioning back to the United States.
Meanwhile, ports and terminals have said they will offer extended gate hours ahead of the Feb. 6 contract deadline.
Charleston will add two extra hours each Feb. 4-6, with operations open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each of the three days.
Savannah will offer extended hours until 8 p.m. only at Gate 4 on Feb. 4-6. According to a notice from the port, all transactions must be pre-advised. The cut-off for pick-up tickets will be 6:30 p.m., while the cut-off for drop–off tickets will be 7:00 p.m. Cut-off for refrigerated box services will remain 4:15 p.m. Savannah said gate hours on Feb. 6 could extend to as late as 11 p.m., if necessary.
The Port Newark Container Terminal (PNCT) said it would offer extended gate hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
PNCT said it would not receive export reefer containers for any vessel with a sailing date of Feb. 7. New York Container Terminal also said it would not receive live reefer cargo for ships scheduled to work after Feb. 6.
Meanwhile, Evergreen Line advised Friday that it will assess congestion surcharges, if a strike occurs, to all import and export cargo moving through U.S. East and Gulf coast ports. Other carriers have also announced similar plans.
Evergreen said for imports, the surcharge is $800 per 20-foot container, $1,000 per 40-foot container, $1,125 per 40-foot high-cube and reefer container, and $1,266 per 45-foot high-cube container. For exports, the surcharge, which must be prepaid, is $800 per 20-foot container and $1,000 per 40-foot container, 40-foot high-cube and reefer container, or 45-foot high-cube container, including inland-point-intermodal cargo received by the carrier or its agent for ultimate shipment from a U.S. East and GulfCoast port.
The surcharges are applicable for shipments scheduled to depart or arrive on Feb. 7 or after. However, Evergreen said no congestion surcharge will be assessed on cargo departing or arriving at U.S. and Canadian west coast ports, as the carrier said there is “no immediate risk of congestion.”
CSX Corp. has advised customers that it will stop accepting internal export shipments of reefer and hazardous cargoes destined to all U.S. East and Gulf coast ports over the next three days.
The embargo starts Friday for shipments originating in St. Louis and Kansas City and Feb. 3 for all other origins. The railroad said it intends to maintain normal gate hours and operations for all other cargo “as long as conditions warrant.”
Norfolk Southern on Thursday issued a similar notice to customers regarding reefer or hazardous freight. The railroad will stop accepting such cargo from most locations today (Feb. 1), with Memphis, Birmingham, and Chicago (Landers) in-gates for those cargoes closing Feb. 2; Atlanta, Feb. 3; and Chicago (63rd St.), Feb. 4. - Chris Dupin