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Hopes run high that US east coast dock talks will end in June contract

HOPES are high that the US east and Gulf coast dock labour talks will result in a final contract when the union and employers meet on June 5.

While the current contract does not expire until September 30, shippers are threatening to use west coast ports to avoid cargo handling go-slows and lockouts that typified 11th hour dock talks before a west coast contract was signed last year.

Such a move would erase gains east coast ports have made vis-a-vis west coast ports since long-settled west coast labour tensions eased but an unrelated cargo drain, caused by the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, was coupled with dredging that made the eastern seaboard accessible to bigger ships.

East and Gulf coasts' share of US container imports from Asia rose to 34.7 per cent last year from less than 22 per cent in 2005, according to PIERS data.

Negotiators for the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) have scheduled meetings June 5-7, reports IHS Media.

This follows meetings between USMX officials and the ILA's 200-member wage scale committee will follow what the two sides described as "significant progress" during bargaining last month on a six-year extension of their Maine-to-Texas master contract.

The current round of ILA-USMX bargaining has progressed in fits and starts, including a three-month hiatus following a break off of negotiations last December after a dispute over how to define automated terminals.

The ILA and employers plan to use the first part of the June 5 to 7 meetings to wrap up local agreements before the union's wage scale committee reviews the proposed new master contract.

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