Commerce could be brought to a near standstill at every major port from Boston to Houston if a walkout by thousands of dock workers takes place.

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More than 14,000 longshoremen are threating to go on strike Sunday -- a wide-ranging work stoppage would close cargo ports on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to container ships.

The 15 ports involved in the labor dispute move more than 100 million tons of goods each year, or about 40 percent of the nation's containerized cargo traffic. Losing them to a shutdown, even for a few days, could cost the economy billions of dollars.

A contract is expiring between the International Longshoremen's Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, a group representing shipping lines, terminal operators and port associations.


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