Crisis averted at the Georgia Ports Authority, for now - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

A crisis averted at the ports, for now


The thought of a strike, and not working, never entered Willie Seymore's mind. He's the president of the International Longshoremen's Chapter, Local 1414.

"We are professionals," Seymore exclaimed. "We pride ourselves in making sure the Georgia Ports, the No. 2 port on the East Coast, and the No. 4 port in the U.S. continues to serve their customers."

That service would have been disrupted at the strike of midnight Saturday, had an agreement not been reached on Friday. More than 40 percent of U.S. container cargo would have been stuck at ports stretching from Maine to Texas.

"We weren't going to work this facility," said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. "The container terminal itself would have been shut down. We would not have been receiving nor dispatching containers. Nor would we have been working the ships."

The ports strike would have affected around 352,000 workers, across the state of Georgia. Not to mention the customers, who shipped around 19 million tons of cargo in and out of the Georgia Ports last year.

"The manufacturers that depend on our ports, like KIA and Volkswagen in Tennessee," said Foltz. "We also have our retail importers, like, Target, Home Depot, Lowe's, Ikea, WalMart. They rely on our ports every day. Any disruptions would have had a negative effect on them, their customers, and have a rippling effect through the economy."

The biggest sticking point between the International Longshoremen's Assocation and the U.S. Maritime Alliance was the amount of royalties, or money, per ton of containerized cargo I.L.A. workers would receive for every shipment that came into the ports.

According to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a royalty amount was agreed upon by both sides. But the organization would not release what that amount would be.

Both Foltz and Seymore said they are optimistic a contract will be signed soon. "We're going to reach a deal," Seymore said. "I'm not going to say we're not going to reach a deal. Men of character and men of understanding are going to be in that conference room. "

Including Seymore. Both men also said the temporary setback between the I.L.A. and the Maritime Alliance never put the Georgia Ports Authority Local 1414 at odds against each other.

"It's really a partnership," said Foltz, " We couldn't do it without them, they couldn't do it without us. We work very well together. I have nothing but high praise for the ILA leadership in Savannah."

Seymore agreed. "We're partners," he said, "This is a decision we had to make with the carriers of the high seas. We don't really have a problem. It's just that we stopped and paused for station identification," he laughed. "We're going to get this together."

Seymore said he expects 2014 to be one of the most productive years in the history of the shipping industry. That's when the expanded panama canal opens.

Foltz said it will be business as usual at the ports until the deal is signed.

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