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Miami-Dade, Broward ports on edge as strike looms

PortMiami administrators are on edge as the nation’s 14,650 longshoremen threaten to shut down the giant gantry cranes used to ship containers at 15 major East Coast ports at midnight Saturday. The job action portends a potential blow of tens of millions of dollars a day to Miami-Dade County’s economy.

PortMiami, the nation’s 11th-largest shipper of containers, does almost $20 billion a year in container business. Any shutdown is not expected to affect cruise ships.

“It’s not a good thing,” said PortMiami Director Bill Johnson, who gathered with staff Friday to discuss the looming shut down. “Ninety-percent of what Americans consume arrives by water. Within a few days it could mean a major disruption throughout the entire U.S.”

At Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy said the department is stepping up security and preparing First Amendment zones in anticipation of picket lines.

“We’re very concerned about it,” she said. “We want to make sure operations continue for those not affected.”

A strike would have far less impact in Broward, which has only two container transport companies that employ longshoremen. Miami has several more, including world leader Maersk. All together, they employ “hundreds of workers” — though local International Longshoremen’s Association offices and PortMiami officials could not give an exact figure.

Johnson said a strike would affect far more than the 6,000 workers at the port, putting a virtual halt to one of the largest economic engines in the county. His office has little in the way of a contingency plan should the longshoremen walk out Saturday night.