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ILA Contract Talks Need Biden’s “Immediate Engagement” Says Apparel Group

container port
The contract covering ports from Maine to Texas is due to expire in just over six months (NY/NJ file photo)

Published Mar 13, 2024 3:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

The trade group representing the U.S. apparel, footwear, and accessories industry is calling for “immediate engagement” by the Biden Administration in the contract negotiations for East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers. The group cites the administration’s involvement with the West Coast dockworkers and rail workers contracts saying “A disruption is preventable with immediate engagement from the Biden Administration.”

In a letter sent to President Biden on March 12, American Apparel & Footwear Association President and CEO Stephen Lamar warns, “Any work slowdown or stoppage leading up to or after expiration of the contract would have a devastating impact on American consumers, American workers, and the U.S. economy.” 

Concerns are growing because according to the group negotiations which began a year ago stalled after only a few weeks of talks. Reports have indicated that union leadership was anxious for the locals to settle their individual contract issues, giving them a deadline of this spring, so that negotiations on the master contract could proceed ahead of the September 30, 2024, contract expiration.

At stake is the master contract with the United States Maritime Alliance that covers some 45,000 dockworkers across 36 U.S. ports from Maine to Texas. The International Longshoremen’s Association membership covers all the major U.S. East Coast seaports and container terminals. 

The group highlights that the vast majority of apparel and footwear products as imported into the U.S. They report in 2023, just over half the products in the $92 billion a year industry move through East and Gulf Coast ports. 

“A coast-wide strike would increase the price of goods, damage the reliability of East Coast ports, and spark a new round of inflation in the U.S. economy,” writes Lamar in the letter to President Biden.

Compounding the complexity of the contract negotiations is the upcoming presidential election. Analysts speaking at the Capital Link Forum in New York on Monday speculated that that union would not strike just weeks before what is likely to be a hotly contested election that will be won or lost by a very narrow margin.