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Customs and Border braces for labor strike at eastern U.S. ports

As the deadline for a labor strike at major U.S. east coast ports looms on Dec. 31, Customs and Border Protection is bracing for the impact on cargo coming into the U.S., publishing alternative strategies to process it.

Collective bargaining for a new master agreement between the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX) has been on the rocks for weeks. A breakdown in the agreement could produce a huge strike affecting the U.S. container-shipping industry. The ILA represents 14,500 dockworkers at 14 ports along the eastern seaboard and Gulf coast. The deadline for a strike is Dec. 31 at 12:01 am eastern time.

As the strike looms, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued on Dec. 21 a series of measures that shipping companies can take for their vessels’ and cargo entry during a strike.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in cooperation with trade stakeholders, is establishing procedures for events that cause major delays and diversions of vessel cargo arriving and departing the U.S.,” said the agency.

“CBP will continue to demonstrate its commitment to the restoration of port operations for affected areas by using its authority and resources to facilitate the movement of cargo caused by events out of CBP’s control,” it said. The agency’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) is working with all field locations to update contingency plans so all affected seaports can resume vessel operations and entry processing of freight as quickly as possible.

According to CBP, the procedures listed on its Web site are for general vessel, cargo, and entry guidelines developed in cooperation with trade stakeholders and incorporating the agency’s system limitations identified during the recent disruptive events.

It said the instructions should help trade stakeholders develop their own contingency plans in the event of a disruption, allowing them to divert ships and cargo that had been scheduled for discharge at U.S. ports.

It advised trade members to work closely with CBP port management to ensure compliance with all CBP policies and procedures. The procedures, it said, are only applicable during the strike, adding that it would publish a notice when the interim procedures are terminated and normal processing resumes.