The customers, American workers and logistical networks relying on the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports cannot afford the continued uncertainty the threat of a port shutdown creates. That was the message sent by a diverse coalition of more than 120 local, state and national stakeholders, ranging from farmers and manufacturers to retailers and wholesalers in a letter to the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance, Ltd. (USMX). The letter urges both sides to remain at the negotiating table until they “reach a new long-term contract.”

“Many businesses have been forced to implement costly contingency plans several times when potential shutdowns loomed,” the letter states.

On December 28, 2012—the day before a planned coast-wide port strike—the ILA and USMX agreed to extend their contract negotiations until Wednesday, February 6, 2013. The two sides are scheduled to meet again the week of January 14th to continue negotiations on the coast-wide contract. The ILA recently walked away from local talks impacting the Port of New York and New Jersey, however, and it is not known what impact that local action will have on next week’s negotiations.

The labor contract being negotiated covers container port operations at 14 East and Gulf Coast ports—stretching from Maine to Texas—including Boston; New York and New Jersey; Delaware River (Philadelphia); Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va. (Norfolk); Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Port Everglades/Miami, Fla.; Tampa, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans and Houston.

The National Retail Federationorganized the letter, which was also signed by the American Apparel & Footwear Association, American Meat Institute, International Wood Products Association, National Association of Manufacturers, Waterfront Coalition, U.S Chamber of Commerce and others.

In the letter, the coalition stressed the need for the two sides to reach a long-term contract agreement without causing disruptions to the nation’s supply chain.