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NRF urges President Obama to intervene in port negotiations

Washington -- The National Retail Federation said today it sent a letter to President Obama to express the retail industry's growing concern about the East and Gulf Coast ports' negotiations and its potentially crushing effects on business if action is not taken soon.

The International Longshoremen's Association and the United States Maritime Alliance Ltd. have been in negotiations, with the assistance of federal mediators, for the past few months with little demonstrable progress. And as a result, the concern for a coast-wide strike is ever increasing, the NRF explained.

Another round of talks is scheduled for this week. The contract deadline is December 29.

"A strike of any kind at ports along the East and Gulf Coast could prove devastating for the U.S. economy," said Matthew Shay, NRF president and ceo. "We call upon you to use all means necessary, including Taft-Hartley, to keep the two sides at the negotiating table and head off a coast-wide strike."

Any supply chain disruption at the ports would immediately impact every importer and exporter - potentially disrupting or delaying spring and summer retail merchandise - that utilizes the facilities along the East and Gulf Coasts from Boston to Houston, NRF continued.

If strike or lockout occurs, 15 separate container ports - Boston, New York/New Jersey, Delaware River, Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Port Everglades, Miami, Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans, and Houston - would immediately cease operations.

In that event, the president could utilize the Taft-Hartley Act to end the job action and force the two sides back to the negotiating table. The last time the Act, which seeks to protect the free flow of commerce, was invoked was by President George W. Bush during the 2002 West Coast ports lockout. Economists estimate that the ‘02 10-day lockout cost the U.S. economy $1 billion a day and took more than six months for the supply chain to recover.

A strike at these ports has not occurred since 1977.

"We cannot afford further supply chain disruptions as we enter 2013," Shay said. "The two sides must remain at the negotiating table until a deal is reached. Allowing a strike to occur for even one day could have a negative impact on all of those downstream businesses and employees who rely on the ports," Shay said. "The U.S. economy cannot afford to wait for a strike to occur before we see administration action. We urge you to get engaged now with these parties to ensure a strike does not occur."

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