"We understand the impact of a strike and we know the implications but the ILA is obligated to represent their members and they work under extremely dangerous circumstances." said James McNamara, spokesman for the International Longshoremen's Association.
"Fifteen people died this year alone," he added. "They were crushed by containers, run-over by forklifts. There isn't anything scheduled for talks but that doesn't mean they can't resume. We are waiting and anxious to hear from the federal mediator George Collins."
Shipping executives are keeping a close eye on these negotiations.
"The port strike would be really bad for the business, not just for shipping but also for the retail / wholesale business." explained Gerry Wang, CEO of Seaspan Corporation (SSW), "Cargo will have to be redirected to other ports on the east coast or even via west coast by train. If the strike is perceived long term, the shipping lines will change their service routes to avoid the port call."
If routes were shifted to avoid the port call, DVB Bank's head of shipping finance and member of its managing board of directors, Dagfinn Lunde said this diversion of cargo could have negative consequences for the ports.
"The New Jersey/ New York port is an extremely important harbor," he said. "But if there is a strike and it is prolonged, cargo will be directed to the south or the west coast and it can be permanently re-routed."
This possible disruption in the supply chain is being called the "container cliff" by the National Retail Federation. The NRF is warning the strike is not only costly for their members but will take time for the supply chain to recover.
"In 2002 with the West Coast lock out cost us a billion a day for the United States and took six months to recover. In some cases cargo that was re-routed during the strike has never come back to the port." said Jonathan Gold, Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy for the National Retail Federation. "Typically what we hear from our retailers for every day of a shutdown, it takes two to three days to clear. Millions of containers will be impacted if this strike happens."
Retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy are just some that could experience such product delays.
Approximately 3,200,000 TEU of containers and 700,000 cars are handled per year in the port of New York New Jersey.
"Roughly 2 million total cars were imported this year with around 40 percent coming through the East Coast," said Jesse Toprak, analyst for TrueCar.com.
"There is also the potential part simpact of this strike," Toprak said. "However, Obama can use the cool off and delay a potential strike by 80 days and it's likely that at least a part of the shipments will be diverted to alternative ports. That will mean extra shipping costs and delayed delivery times but I don't anticipate any major actual product shortages due to healthy inventory levels for several months."
But retailers are not as optimistic. "They [retailers] are very concerned for January because a strike would mean a delay with their Spring and Summer shipments. Everything from apparel to home goods to even patio furniture wouldbe held up." explained Gold.