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South Carolina ports, ILA to reopen idle terminal

South Carolina Ports Authority opened the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal in March 2021. The terminal stopped operations in January 2023 after a labor dispute between the port and the International Longshoremen’s Association.

Posted on July 10, 2024

The terminal, which has been closed since January 2023, will significantly expand handling capacity at the growing port.

The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) and the International Longshoremen’s Association reached an agreement to reopen the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal “as soon as possible,” SCPA President and CEO Barbara Melvin said at a June 25 board meeting.

Under the new agreement, both parties agreed on the following framework:

  • The port will continue to own all equipment and manage terminal operations.
  • The port will continue to provide training and certification in collaboration with the ILA.
  • Existing port employees in certain roles that will now be manned by union labor will have the option to stay employed in their current positions. Alternatively, port employees can join the ILA and a third-party contractor to staff the Leatherman Terminal for its reopening.
  • Due to the SCPA freezing hiring for the roles impacted by a Fourth Circuit decision, both parties agreed to allow the ILA to fill any additional needs at existing container terminals, working alongside remaining SCPA employees.

The next step is for dockworkers specifically known as stevedores to implement an operating agreement to add ILA workforce to the terminal, according to the port’s board meeting.

A labor dispute between the port and ILA prompted ships to stop calling SCPA back in January 2023 at the Leatherman Terminal. The recently announced agreement helps dissolve the dispute, a port spokesperson told Supply Chain Dive.

While both parties did not specify the details of the dispute, there have been a series of ongoing issues between the ILA and the port. Complaints have involved the port using a hybrid operating model which involves hiring both union and non-union labor, according to a judicial document from 2021.

As of now, “all obstacles to operations have been removed,” the SCPA and the ILA said in a June 25 joint press release.

Southeast ports located in Savannah, Georgia, and South Carolina have seen cargo volumes soar as shippers look to keep cargo flowing amid multiple disruptions.

Despite a small dip in May, the Port of Charleston reported higher year-over-year cargo volumes from February through April.

“The Southeast market is booming, and we are investing in our infrastructure to handle that growth. This is much-needed and timely capacity for the Southeast,” the spokesperson said.

The Leatherman Terminal provides 700,000 total TEUs of capacity and an additional berth to the Port of Charleston. In total, the terminal expects to eventually have 2.4 million total TEUs of capacity and connect to an intermodal cargo yard called Navy Base Intermodal Facility slated to open next summer, the spokesperson said.


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