The Associated Press is reporting that the International Longshoremen’s Association’s contracts on the East and Gulf coast have been extended for 30 days, averting a potentially crippling strike to the nation’s shipping industry.

The New York Times has some background on the conflict here:

The strike threat has so alarmed corporate America that more than 100 business groups wrote to President Obama last week to urge him to intervene to push the two sides to settle — and, if need be, to invoke his emergency powers under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act to bar a strike. President George W. Bush invoked the act in 2002 to end a lockout at ports on the West Coast, where a different union represents dockworkers.

Despite their small numbers, the East Coast dockworkers have outsize influence. Many of them, like the crane operators who transfer containers from ships to the docks, are highly skilled and cannot be easily replaced. And because they control the loading and unloading of goods in most of the nation’s ports, a strike could cause extensive economic damage at a time when the economy is already weak.

“They’re in a crucial place in the flow of goods,” said Richard W. Hurd, an industrial relations professor at Cornell University.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimates that a strike would cost the region $136 million a week in personal income and $110 million in economic output.

The dockworkers union, the International Longshoremen’s Association, opposes presidential intervention, and labor specialists say Mr. Obama, like previous union-friendly Democrats, may be reluctant to enjoin a strike. On the other hand, the economy already faces a potential blow from tax increases and federal budget cuts scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, and a strike would cause further damage.

“The last thing the nation needs right now is a strike that would shut down the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports,” said Jonathan Gold, the National Retail Federation’s vice president for supply chain policy. “This will have a huge ripple effect throughout the economy.”