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Retailers prepare for possible ports strike next month

A dock workers union may authorize a strike at the end of September if a contract deal isn't reached. The strike would affect ports up and down the East Coast.

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"Over the years, we've got a number of inefficient work rules and practices that have crept into the operation and need to be addressed," Capo said. "It drives our costs up and makes us noncompetitive."

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McNamara accused the alliance of cherry-picking numbers and focusing only on a small minority of highly paid employees. He said the container royalties serve a valuable purpose by defraying benefits costs for union members in smaller ports, such as New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla.

"Up until last Wednesday, we thought we were very close," McNamara said of the negotiations. "Then they came in with a very hardline stance all of a sudden, and that resulted in the two sides as being very far apart."

A port strike could be economically devastating for Georgia, especially at Savannah, the second-busiest container port on the East Coast.

A strike would sideline roughly 1,500 longshoremen in Savannah, where the Georgia Ports Authority employs about 1,000 additional staff. And the economic impacts would ripple outward far from the docks on the Savannah River. A recent study by the University of Georgia said the ports in Savannah and nearby Brunswick directly support 153,884 jobs statewide.

"Right now, with the state of the economy in the United States, we don't need any negative drag on it whatsoever," Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "A work disruption on the East Coast certainly doesn't help our recovery."

Foltz was traveling out of the country Wednesday and unavailable to comment further, Georgia ports spokesman Robert Morris said.

Willie Seymore, president of the Savannah chapter of the longshoremen's union, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah contributed to this report.

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