Potential strike by East Coast longshoremen could affect Augusta businesses

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A possible strike by the East Coast longshoremen at the Port of Savannah has several area companies bracing for the effects.

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The Port of Savannah could be shut down if the East Coast longshoremen decide to strike at the end of September.  Russ Bryant/Special
Russ Bryant/Special
The Port of Savannah could be shut down if the East Coast longshoremen decide to strike at the end of September.

Each year, Thiele Kaolin Co. in Sandersville and Wrens exports 400,000 tons of kaolin through the Port of Savannah. The company exports a third of the mineral, which is used mainly as a paper coating. Most of the exports go to Asia.

The strike could bring the company’s export business to a standstill, said Randy Mayberry, the company’s director of international sales.

“To get this stuff to the West Coast, it would be astronomically expensive,” Mayberry said. “If the International Longshoremen’s Association goes out on strike, it’s going to have a tremendous, detrimental effect on the middle Georgia kaolin operations. It’s not going to be pretty.”

Their clients could lose confidence in them and look elsewhere, he said.

“If they don’t have raw materials, you can bet they’re going to figure out how to avoid a situation in the future,” Mayberry said. “We compete with materials mined in Brazil. There are a lot of other players that could supply this market. The Asian customers are loyal to service and quality. If you let them down, you’re going to suffer the ill effects.”

Other area companies could be affected.

Thiele Kaolin, DSM Chemicals and Club Car make up the top three port customers by volume in the region, according to a University of Georgia study.

Bryan Mash, the vice president of human resources at Club Car, said the company has a backup plan if the strike occurs.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation, and we’re hopeful an agreement can be reached that would avert a strike,” Mash said. “Meanwhile, we have contingency plans in place to support our transportation needs and the needs of our customers.”

The NutraSweet Co. on Lovers Lane in Augusta ships about half of its sales through the Port of Savannah to customers worldwide. Most of its products are exported to Asia, but it also ships to Europe, Africa, Australia and Central and South America, company president Bill DeFer said.

NutraSweet exports NutraSweet brand aspartame, sweeteners and other ingredients manufactured at the plant.

“We’re trying to move product out of the country ahead of time,” DeFer said. “If need be, we would have to export product using West Coast ports, most likely Long Beach, Calif. We’d have to truck it all the way across the country. Both of those things create some extra expense for us, but at this point, can’t be helped. We have to ... make sure our customers have uninterrupted service.”

MTU Detroit Diesel Inc. imports and exports a large number of engine parts through ports in Savannah and Charleston, S.C., said Gary Mason, the senior public relations manager. The company manufactures large diesel engines for tugboats, locomotives, ships and mining equipment.

“Access to those ports was one of the reasons why we moved our production operations to Aiken County,” Mason said.

The company relocated its production plant from Detroit to Aiken County in 2010, he said. MTU Detroit Diesel ships all over the world, with much of its product going to its headquarters in Germany.

“We’re monitoring the situation,” Mason said. “We do have contingency plans in place should the strike actually come about. We feel we’ll be prepared.”

Negotiations for a new contract covering dockworkers at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports have come to an abrupt halt, with the possibility of an end-of-the-month work stoppage looming larger and sending shippers scrambling to find alternatives for their holiday cargo.

Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Association, which represents 14 Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, dissolved Aug. 22, less than half an hour into what was to have been a three-day session.

“It looks like we’re going to have a strike” when the current contract expires Sept. 30, ILA president Harold Daggett told the Journal of Commerce.

No new negotiations are planned.

At the Georgia Ports Authority, Executive Director Curtis Foltz said his staff has been watching the developments for months, although he was quick to point out that the authority doesn’t have a seat at the table.

Some shippers are already diverting cargo from Savannah, the fourth-busiest container port in the country and second-largest on the East Coast, to the West Coast, Foltz said, more so after the recent negotiations broke down.

“I both hope and expect they will be talking again, preferably sooner rather than later, so they can either reach an agreement by October or agree to extend the deadline,” he said.

The Savannah Morning News contributed to this story.

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JRC2024 09/10/12 - 09:22 am
I hope all those union dock

I hope all those union dock workers loose everything they have because of their selfish acts that are a destabilizing to our economy. They should value their jobs and be glad the companies that ship thru their docks are doing well. Shame on them.

OpenCurtain 09/10/12 - 10:20 am

Look again at the list of LOCAL Companies that will be affected and just in time for the election and the holidays.

Having seen this planned strike before, it was for a politically manipulated Election plan to allow a president to show he could negotiate with the union and fix things.

The bigger issue is we know it is going to hurt a lot of bystanders. The trickle down effect from any Union Strike is a great study in itself.

The article correctly points out purchasers and makers of goods will seek less disruptive supply channels.

A few Union Strikes that have really hurt USA business examples:

Int. Harvester - 1978-1979 Closed - the strike over 11 cents an hour and really some financially over the top demands. Over 10'000 unemployed, plus another 200,000 in dealers, suppliers and related employees. Locally Hydreco ended up closing and unemploying about 250 plant employees, not counting businesses supporting Hydreco with items.

Schwin Bicycle - Union Strike at Schwin ended up kick starting the China / Asian market by building a factory in China.

Steel Mill Union - refused to allow modernization of the steel mills, so Japan became the go to Steel producer of the world and then others followed suit. Just ask Pittsburgh how the Union strikes worked out for the town?

The Auto Unions repeated strikes - lead to NAFTA, which resulted in the loss of 1000's of businesses in the USA. At last count the loss of over 4.5 million jobs. Plus NAFTA opened the doors to cheaper inferior goods. OH! and eventually leading to 50% or more of every auto is now per-assembled south or north of the border or overseas.

Unions do help the workers many times, but when manipulated by power brokers they also have helped kill American Industry.

Insider Information
Insider Information 09/10/12 - 10:05 am
Time to wake up

It's time for rank and file union members to wake up and strike against union leadership.

They are not one in the same.

Union members should withhold dues until union leaders start working for them and not their pocketbooks.

OpenCurtain 09/11/12 - 09:02 am
deleted duplicate comment

Sorry fat fingered the keyboard

OpenCurtain 09/10/12 - 12:59 pm
Looks like some members are watching

A quick count of the Thumbs down votes, indicates a few disagree, but
without comment?

If you disagree please tell us why?

BTW: Remember GA is a Right To Work state
Scabs and new hires can do the job, slower but still do the job, while y'all fight over hard to find pennies.

bubbasauce 09/10/12 - 04:21 pm
Do just as Ronald Reagan did

Do just as Ronald Reagan did to the airline control tower workers. Fire and replace every one of them, including the teachers up in Chicago. They should be glad just to have a job,period. There are plenty of qualified people to do their jobs.

OpenCurtain 09/11/12 - 09:34 am
OK tell us what the Strike is about

Want some details? Then read on:


"The ILA, which represents about 65,000 employees at East Coast, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico and other cargo ports, is insisting employers drop plans to institute cost-saving technologies and labor practices. The contract would cover 14,500 of those workers. USMX counters that reforms are overdue and that a strike could seriously damage the economy."

PghSteelersFan 09/11/12 - 12:47 pm
Open Curtain, there are a few

Open Curtain, there are a few things wrong in what you mentioned as far as companies go.
You said 'International Harvester' CLOSED 1978-79. It may have had a strike at the time that 'closed it for awhile' but it didn't shut the doors and leave town at that time.
It actually sold off its 'agricultural division' in 1985 and renamed itself Navistar International in 1986 to focus on its machinery line. It is still in business.
The 'agricultural division' was sold to J I Case Company and when merged, J I Case Company changed their name to Case HI. It is still operational.
Schwinn Bicycles -- they did have a strike but the major reason for their 'going off shore' was because the Chicago plant was too old to renovate for the 'modern bike'. The Schwinn Board decided to enter into a contract with Panasonic Bikes of Japan to produce the bikes. Schwinn started being more of a marketer than a builder. Later Schwinn went into partnership with Giant Bicycles of Taiwan to produce the bikes. In the meantime, Schwinn opened a plant in Greenville, Mississippi to build a new type of bike. The plant closed because it was to remote a location. The President of Schwinn then tried to buy a minority stake in Giant Bikes but failed. Schwinn turned to China Bike Co to produce their bikes. Now both companies (Giant and China Bike) competed using the same materials, dies, etc. With this going on and more AMERICAN companies making bikes and unable to compete, Schwinn went into bankruptcy. The 'name' was bought/sold and now is owned by the Dorel Companies. In 2010 they started a marketing campaign to reacquaint America with the name. There are two lines made today. A cheaper line sold in Walmarts and a 'professional line' sold in 'bike shops'.
As for your Pittsburgh, comment, I lived in Pittsburgh and I can say the area has 'blue skies'. The need to change your white shirt at lunch because of all the soot flying around has ended. Pittsburgh is still Headquarters for Alcoa, PNC, and Heinz Foods among others. It has major universities in Pitt and CMU.
The old Homestead Works (in Homestead, PA across the river from Pittsburgh) where a strike led Henry Clay Frick to call in the Pinkertons in the 1800s and a 'battle' took place, has been torn down except for a few tall chimneys and turned into a major shopping area of free standing buildings with space between them along the Monogahela River.
Kennywood, one of the oldest amusement parks in America still operates. Pittsburgh did have a turn down when the mills closed but its citizens come from a hard working group of people and while it did lose in population, it has since rebounded.

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