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Federal mediators hope to prevent strike in Maryland

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service recently announced plans to resume contract negotiation talks with the U.S. Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen's Association, possibly to assuage fears that a strike by dockworkers could stifle the still-recovering economy. The ILA has not had a strike in over three decades, but officials like the former chief of the Federal Maritime Commission are concerned that changes in the union could damage East and Gulf coast markets if not addressed.

Officials in Maryland were reportedly relieved upon hearing of the FMCS's decision to assist in the contract negotiation process. The Maryland Port Administration had already begun planning for a possible strike or walkout, concerned that such an event could reverse much of the port's progress since the recession. Because of the dispute's particularly high profile, an official with the FMCS said the agency will not reveal the location of the negotiations or the matters discussed therein.

Both sides were reportedly encouraged the FMCS's announcement. The agency contacted both sides to arrange the negotiation, which is scheduled to take place two weeks before the current contract expires. "We're grateful," said a representative for the ILA, adding that there was still time to avoid a walkout. The port's executive was also pleased to hear that negotiation would resume. "The guy's on the pier don't want to strike. Management doesn't want to strike. We don't want to stop our momentum," he explained.

The negotiations between the maritime alliance and the ILA reportedly went sour just hours after they began, with the union accusing the alliance of inflexibility regarding overtime pay and similar issues. Likewise, the alliance argued that the ILA refused to accept compromises aimed at introducing new technology the alliance says it needs to remain competitive. The alliance issued a statement explaining that cargo ships will relocate to other ports if it does not implement "the productivity improvements that technology can help deliver."

The successful balance between the employer-employee relationship is essential for any business. A breakdown in communication can lead to lengthy negotiations and/or costly litigation. Either scenario can cost businesses profits and workers lost wages. Seeking the assistance from knowledgeable employment litigation attorneys can help resolve the immediate problems as well as establish long-range goals for the company and its workers.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Federal mediators to try to restart talks with dockworkers," Candy Thompson, Sept. 6, 2012

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