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Submitted by Holden Kurwicki on Thu, 12/27/2012 - 4:29pm.

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- It's a big employer in the Cape Fear region, but this weekend some workers could hit the picket lines and impact how things move through the State Port of Wilmington. It would be the first longshoremen work stoppage since 1977. Each day tons of imported and exported goods come in and out of the port. "Agricultural products, steel products, paper products, forged products, as well as containers that contain a variety of different commodities and goods," NC Ports Authority Deputy Executive Director Jeff Miles said. Since the introduction of automated cargo in the late 1960s the International Longshoremen's Association has been paid a fee based on container tonage. Over the next 25 years the United States Maritime Alliance, which represents the shipping industry, wants to eliminate that fee. It's a proposal that has longshoremen ready to jump ship and hit the picket lines. "It was intended to be an offset to the lost wages the longshoremen experienced when they transitioned from break-bulk to containerized cargo," Miles said. "Those rates have been escalating over the years, and the disagreement right now is about the rate of escalation and whether or not they might be subject to capping in terms of total expense." If the two sides cannot come to an agreement by the Sunday deadline, about 250 longshoremen could walk out of the Port of Wilmington. "The short-term effect would be minimal, and it will only affect the container operation, which is about one third of what we do here at the port in terms of overall volume," Miles said. "The long term effects would be that cargo that comes in from Asia that goes into the consumer market might be constrained in its availability." We tried contacting both the International Longshoremen's Association and United States Maritime Alliance for this story, but both declined comment. The White House is calling for the two sides to meet and workout a deal to avoid a strike.

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