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Import cargo to increase 8.5% in September as strike worries mount

WASHINGTON — Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 8.5% in September compared with the same month last year, and strong increases are expected into the holiday season despite talk of a possible strike at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Retailers are bringing in more merchandise for the holiday season this year. The question at some ports is whether longshoremen will be on the docks to unload it,” NRF VP supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “Regardless of what happens with contract talks, retailers have contingency plans in place to ensure that merchandise reaches store shelves in time and that there is no disruption for shoppers.”

Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance broke down in August, and at least one major ILA local has authorized a strike if a new contract for East Coast and Gulf Coast ports isn’t agreed on by the time the current pact expires Sept. 30. Labor and management have agreed to meet again next week under the supervision of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Retailers are considering a variety of contingency plans, including diverting cargo to West Coast ports, which are represented by a separate union and not affected.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.41 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 2.2% from June and 2.5% from July 2011. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.