LORTON, Virginia - A feared hurdle to sending “Pamasko” to relatives back home this Christmas was lifted – even if just temporarily – after a potentially crippling port workers’ strike was averted.
A strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) would have affected ports all along the East Coast down to the Gulf. It was averted at the last minute with the union and port operators United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) settling for a 90-day extension of a collective bargaining agreement that expired last Sept. 30.
Maria Castro, who runs Lorton-based Manila Forwarders Corp. (MFC) said the strike could have spoiled the Christmas gift-giving plans of thousands of Filipinos from Boston all the way to New Orleans and Galveston in Texas.
It would have forced cargo consolidators here like Manila Forwarders to divert their shipments from Baltimore or Norfolk by adding an overland leg to the West Coast.
The popular “Balikbayan” box shipments could have become more expensive or worse, stranded in the ports.
The temporary agreement will run to Dec. 29. “In taking this significant step, the parties emphasized that they are doing so ‘for the good of the country’ to avoid any interruption in interstate commerce,” a statement from George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said.
The strike could have spoiled the Christmas season all across America, bringing the supply chain to a standstill. It could have distorted retail prices and possibly impact the Nov. 6 elections.
A 2002 lock-out involving West Coast port workers cost an estimated $1 billion a day.
Some shippers have sped up freight deliveries in anticipation of the strike to avoid the possibility of goods languishing in East Coast and Gulf Coast ports. The ILA represents about 20,000 longshoremen. The USMX is an organization of container carriers and port associations.
“We will continue to keep a close watch on the situation,” Castro assured.
But she added that with or without the threat of a port stoppage hanging in the coming months, Filipinos who wish to send goods to the Philippines for Christmas are advised to do it early.
“We are still encouraging our kababayans to ship early just so we can avoid the holiday congestion plus the unpredictable weather we have back home,” she told the Manila Mail.
Many Filipinos traditionally send boxes of toys, foodstuff and other goods as Christmas gifts to relatives in the Philippines. It takes at least 5 weeks to ship the boxes from here so consolidators are entering the critical stage of the Christmas traffic.
Dollar remittances from Filipinos in the US is rising – they sent home $4.3 billion (P176 billion) in the first six months of 2012 compared to $3.9 billion (P160 billion) the same period last year. They traditionally spike during the Christmas season.