Longshoremen avert strike at 15 ports, including Baltimore

Longshoremen and the management of East Coast and Gulf ports reached a tentative agreement on a new master contract late Friday night, averting a threatened walkout next week.

The deal between the International Longshoremen's Association, which represents 14,500 workers, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance that negotiates for 15 ports and shipping companies is still subject to ratification by both sides and to agreements between local unions and port managers. Details were not released.

At the Port of Baltimore, strike preparations were taking shape in advance of the Feb. 6 deadline. About 1,200 longshoremen work at the port. A strike would have halted all container cargo but would not have affected bulk cargo, passenger cruise ships or roll-on, roll-off cargo such as cars and farm equipment.

A crippling coast-wide strike--the first in 35 years--was averted on Dec. 29, when both sides settled a major sticking point on wages and agreed to a six-week contract extension.

Federal mediator George Cohen, who entered the talks late last year when it appeared a walkout was imminent, said local negotiations "will continue without interruption to any port operation."

Cohen said the union and management bargained in good faith, "avoiding a potential work stoppage that would have had a severe negative impact on the nation's economy."

An eight-day strike last year by 20,000 West Coast dock workers, who are represented by a different union, cost that region's economy an estimated $1 billion a day.

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