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Larry Thomas

Ports to stay open as dockworkers, owners extend contract to Dec. 29

Unionized dockworkers and the operators of 14 East Coast and Gulf Coast ports have agreed to a 90-day extension of their current labor contract, ending the threat of a strike that could have shut down the ports on Sept. 30.

A statement from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which began overseeing the contract talks this week, said progress has been made "on several important subjects" and said the two sides agreed to extend the current contract to Dec. 29 "to avoid any disruption of interstate commerce."

Many furniture retailers and manufacturers are among those who have been trying to reschedule or re-route containers headed for the United States from Asia and Europe in case East Coast and Gulf Coast ports were shut down.

Some have redirected shipments to West Coast ports, but they could also face delays as volume increases there. Meanwhile, some shipping companies have begun implementing "port congestion charges" for containers headed to the West Coast.

Contract talks between the International Longshormens Assn. and the United States Maritime Alliance resumed this week under the auspices of a federal mediator. About 14,500 workers are covered by the existing contract.

West Coast dockworkers belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose contract with port operators doesn't expire until 2014.

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