- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NEWARK, N.J. | Longshoremen in New Jersey and New York prepared to return to work Wednesday after two days of a stoppage that brought operations at the East Coast’s busiest ports to a standstill.

The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) said Wednesday afternoon that it “has convinced the individual pickets to leave the various terminals in the port of New York and New Jersey.”

The work stoppage stemmed from a dispute between the longshoremen’s union and Fresh Del Monte Produce over the company’s decision to move some work done in Camden, N.J., to Gloucester City.

Longshoremen say Fresh Del Monte Produce is trying to undercut the union by first cutting pay and then moving the jobs, but the company insists the new terminal is fully unionized.

“They’re taking family sustaining jobs with health insurance and they’re turning them into garbage,” said ILA member Charlie Mahoney, who traveled from Philadelphia to protest in Brooklyn, where his red Phillies cap stood out. “If it happened to us, it can happen here.”

The ILA claims it has lost 200 jobs as a result of the move from Camden.

Workers in northern New Jersey and New York had been off the job since Tuesday, leaving at least a dozen ships waiting to off-load cargo containers and forcing truckers to sit idle or return shipments to their senders.

“I’ve been sitting here since [Tuesday] morning,” Bobby Noyes said Wednesday from the cab of a truck hauling more than 30,000 pounds of Hershey’s chocolate to Port Newark for shipment to Seoul. He said he won’t get paid unless the delivery is completed.

Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, an organization that represents cargo carriers, estimated the total losses to cargo ships at hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.

Dionysios Christou, a spokesman for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Fresh Del Monte Produce, said earlier that the union is misrepresenting the company’s reason for switching ports and that $10 million worth of perishable cargo was at risk because of the work stoppage.

“Contrary to the ILA’s claims, Del Monte’s decision to relocate from Camden to Gloucester Terminals is based primarily on the fact that it has outgrown the Camden facility,” he said. “Del Monte determined that there is not enough room in Camden to handle its anticipated growth, both now and in the future.”

He said the Camden facility has cargo capacity of less than 10,000 pallets, compared with more than 40,000 in Gloucester.

“Growth means jobs, union jobs paying family sustaining wages, for the people who work at the Gloucester facility,” he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise granted the New York Shipping Association’s request for a temporary restraining order to force the longshoremen back to work. The shippers argued that the work stoppage violates a no-strike clause in its contract with the ILA.