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Labor dispute could affect Boston port

A reach stacker operated by a longshoreman, right, places a shipping container Tuesday on a tractor trailer truck at the Port of Boston, in Boston. The longshoremen's union may strike if they are unable to reach an agreement on their contract that expires Dec. 29. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A labor dispute between longshoremen and a consortium of shipping companies and East Coast ports is generating worries that, if unresolved, the dispute could lead to a shutdown of the Boston port and others.

According to the United States Maritime Alliance, which represents the ports and shipping companies, the International Longshoremen’s Association voted to strike when the current contract ­expires on Dec. 29.

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Through press releases, both the ILA and the maritime alliance have said that the other side rejected a short-term contract extension at a meeting in New Jersey Tuesday.

The Massachusetts Port Authority hopes the two sides can come to an agreement, but the authority has contingency plans so shippers and key accounts could still pick up their cargo, said the port’s acting director, Deborah Hadden.

Massport’s Conley terminal handles roughly 1.5 million tons of container cargo annually and supports about 1,000 jobs, including those held by the ILA and truckers, according to Massport.

The maritime alliance, which represents ports and shipping associations from Boston to Houston, said that it has successfully negotiated with the ILA, avoiding strikes, since 1977.

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