A reach stacker operated by a longshoreman, right, places a shipping container on a tractor trailer truck Tuesday 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 reach stacker operated by a longshoreman, right, places a shipping container on a tractor trailer truck Tuesday 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 the consortium of shipping companies and East Coast ports has fostered worries that if unresolved the dispute could lead to a shutdown of the Boston port and others by year’s end.

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.

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

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“USMX seems intent on gutting a provision of our Master Contract that ILA members fought and sacrificed for years to achieve,” ILA President Harold Daggett, said in a statement that also expressed his wish to prevent a strike on Dec. 30. “We have repeatedly asked them to leave this item alone—it was a hard won gain by ILA members and a wage supplement achieved through hard fought negotiations.”

The Massachusetts Port Authority hopes the two sides can come to an agreement, but the agency has contingency plans.

“In the event of a strike, Massport is already reaching out to shippers and key accounts that use the Conley Container Terminal,” Acting Port Director Deborah Hadden said in a statement. “We want them to be able to claim whatever cargo they have on the docks before the work stoppage occurs. Massport is prepared to extend the hours of operation of the terminal, if needed, to accommodate our customers,”

Conley 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 it has successfully negotiated with ILA, avoiding strikes dating back to 1977.

“USMX and its members are disappointed with the breakdown of negotiations and the inflexible stance that the union’s leaders have maintained over the nine-month course of these talks,” said James Capo, USMX chairman and CEO, in a statement.

The failed negotiations have distressed retailers who worry about the implications of a strike.

“The last thing the economy needs right now is another strike, which would impact all international trade and commerce at the nation’s East and Gulf Coast container ports. This is truly a ‘container cliff’ in the making,” National Retail Federation executive Jonathan Gold said in a statement.