Averting a Sept. 30 deadline and likely strike, labor negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement between the U.S. Maritime Alliance and International Longshoremen’s Association have been extended until Dec. 29, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said Sept. 20.

“In taking this significant step, the parties emphasized that they are doing so “for the good of the country” to avoid any interruption in interstate commerce,” said FMCS director George Cohen in a Sept. 20 statement.

Any strike action involving 20,000 port workers from Maine to Texas would have severe consequence for fresh produce industry importers and exporters, said Daniel Cooke, director of product marketing for freight forwarding company OHL International, Brentwood, Tenn.

“The problem would have been all of the ports on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast would have been unable to operate because of the longshoremen to handle the containers would have been on strike,” he said.

The only options for traders would have been to divert shipments to the West Coast or to air freight produce, he said.

Some of the key issues in the labor negotiations are far from resolved, Cooke said.

“We have another 90 days for these two sides to figure out a way forward,” he said. “I just hope they can really knuckle down and figure something out.”