The Port of Houston is one of more than a dozen ports along the east and gulf coasts that could be stalled by a labor strike before the New Year.
The contract between the longshoremen's union and the shipping companies that employ them expires at midnight, Dec. 29. Both sides have been negotiating for months but walked away from talks this week.
At issue is a "royalty" that longshoremen are paid for processing containers. The shipping companies call it an expensive bonus while the union says it is a non-negotiable part of their income.
In Houston, where longshoremen handle 70 percent of the shipping container business along the gulf coast, more than a million jobs are tied to the port.
Already, the threat of a strike has prompted two ships to divert their cargo away from here to the west coast.
Port executive director Len Waterworth says, "If they can't get through the facilities at the Port of Houston, they will have to figure out how to bring those markets in. Most likely, they will go to places like California."
The contract is tied to 15 ports from Boston to Houston. The National Retail Federation and a hundred other business organizations have asked the White House to force the two sides back to negotiations.