Twenty thousand workers in 29 cities are responsible for lifting, moving and sorting millions of dollars worth of economic activity each day. Those 20,000 union dockworkers have been loading and unloading cargo at U.S. West Coast ports for more than a month without a contract. Negotiators for their union and the ports' management are scheduled to start talking again Monday.
The usual issues are in play -- pay, healthcare benefits and work rules. But like any big union contract, those affected by the talks stretch well beyond the bargaining table. Port management locked out workers in 2002 for 10 days. It cost the economy $1 billion per day. Retailers and manufacturers contend shutting down West Coast ports, if it comes to that again, would cost the economy twice as much per day this time as it did 12 years ago.
Both sides have expressed support in continuing talks and continuing the work of global trade at the waterfront. There's plenty at stake for retailers like Walmart and Amazon.com. Holiday stockpiling already is underway. In June, imports of shipping containers were up 7 percent from a year earlier. July traffic is expected to come in at five-year highs. At the same time, export volume has been falling.
Global trade is a fluid business. Ports in Canada, Mexico and on the East Coast of the U.S. could be new entry points for merchandise, especially from Asia, that traditionally has landed on America's west coast if cordial contract talks turn sour. Goods will find their way to a market. But with greater distances comes greater costs, not all of which are on a price tag.
Tom Hudson, financial journalist, hosts "The Sunshine Economy" on WLRN-FM in Miami, where he is the vice president of news. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of "Nightly Business Report" on public television. Follow him on Twitter HudsonsView.