Federal mediators said today that labor and management from East Coast and Gulf Coast ports have agreed to return to the bargaining table, a move that could avoid a possible October strike that would disrupt retail supply chains.  “The parties have agreed to resume negotiations under our auspices,” said George H. Cohen, federal mediation and conciliation service director.

Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance will take place the week of September 17, but “due to the sensitivity of this high-profile dispute,” neither the location of the meeting nor the content of the talks will be disclosed, Cohen said.

The current contract expires September 30 and the ILA’s New York-New Jersey local last week voted to authorize a strike if the dispute is not settled by then.  Negotiations broke off two weeks ago in a dispute over what issues were to be discussed.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) warned last week that merchants would be forced to divert shipments to the West Coast or find other alternatives if settlement could not be reached quickly.  Many retail companies have already begun putting contingency plans into operation, according to NRF.