Contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen's Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents shipping interests and management at 14 ports from Boston to Houston, broke down Tuesday, the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News reported.
With no meetings between the two parties scheduled before Saturday, when current contracts expire, a dockworkers strike looks likely, officials say.
"It's beginning to look pretty likely," said Curtis Foltz, executive director at Georgia Ports, the second largest container port on the East Coast. "We've been increasingly concerned by the lack of progress in the negotiations and are disappointed the parties haven't been able to reach a new contract."
Foltz said a strike would disrupt the delivery of everything from retail goods and food items to manufacturing parts.
"Logistics supply chains don't turn on a dime, so even if the issues are resolved fairly quickly, it could take months before all the business comes back," he said.
Rhett Willis, president of Savannah's D.J. Powers, a Georgia-based freight forwarder for customs brokerage firms in the state, said the possibility of a strike has already caused disruptions across the supply chain.
"Many of our customers are already acting on their contingency plans, canceling bookings or loading and holding containers," he said.
"Hopefully this won't happen," Willis said. "And, if it does, hopefully it won't last long."
The main point of contention is over container royalties -- money ILA workers receive at the end of the year that also go to their benefits, and is based on the weight of container cargo received at each port.
Although some ports, such as the Savannah port, bring in higher container royalties annually, dockworkers there are walking off the job in solidarity with their peers in other cities.
"The issues are national, not local, and primarily in the New York area," said Tom Wright, secretary of the Savannah Maritime Association. "Our local longshoremen, facilities and agents work well together."