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Florida governor asks Obama to block possible ports strike

Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks at a meeting of the Latin Builders Association in Miami, Florida January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Joe
Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks at a meeting of the Latin Builders Association in Miami, Florida January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Joe

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida's Republican governor wants President Barack Obama to invoke federal law and order a cooling-off period if nearly 15,000 longshoremen walk off the job in a looming strike that would be a big blow to the state's economy, according to a letter he sent the president this week.

The International Longshoremen's Association union and the U.S. Maritime Alliance grouping of shippers and ports have been bargaining since March but reportedly remain far from a deal covering cargo handling at 15 ports on the U.S. Gulf and eastern coasts.

In October, when a previous contract expired, the sides agreed to a 90-day extension of terms that runs out on December 29.

Florida ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale would be directly hit by a strike or lockout but a stoppage would also rattle overall transport and trade, which accounts for 550,000 jobs in the state and $66 billion in economic activity, Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a letter dated Thursday.

"The threat to national safety and security that would result from mass closure of ports cannot be overstated," Scott told Obama.

Scott said Obama had the power under 1947's Taft-Hartley Act to prevent or interrupt a work stoppage at the ports. Presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush both used Taft-Hartley, which calls for 80-day cooling-off periods and mediation, Scott said.

"The Taft-Hartley Act provides your administration with tools that can help avoid this threat," Scott said. "On behalf of the State of Florida, I respectfully request that you invoke the act when the contract ... expires at the end of the month."

(Reporting By Michael Connor in Miami; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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