West Coast Ports Hit Hard By Slow-Downs

Peter’s Commentary:

The US West Coast ports are partially shutting down four days this weekend.


Photo by Patrick Denker

Shipping lines and terminal operators are stopping the unloading of ships on Thursday (Lincolns birthday), Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Presidents Day). This is because they don’t want to pay holiday overtime to the workers who they allege have deliberately slowed operations to create a massive backlog.

The union blames the shipping companies for the backlog. And claims that the congestion is caused by the increased use of large container ships and a shortage of trailers to remove the cargo from the docks.

From LA Times, Andrew Khouri, February 11, 2015:

It’s unclear whether the partial shutdown foreshadows a total closure of the ports. Fears of a lockout of dockworkers, who have been without a contract since July, have risen in the last week and the two sides haven’t held talks since Friday.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union President Robert McEllrath said the employer group canceled talks Wednesday and accused the shipping companies of curtailing port work “to put economic pressure on our members.” The negotiations have dragged on for nine months.

But both sides said talks were scheduled to take place Thursday morning.

Congestion at the ports has delayed shipments from Asia and has hurt businesses that rely on parts and supplies from China and elsewhere. Some businesses are rerouting goods by air or through ports on the East Coast, but those work-arounds have been expensive. Los Angeles and Long Beach ports account for about 40% of the nation’s incoming container cargo. In 2013, the two ports handled roughly $400 billion worth of goods.

“The slowdowns need to end. The brinkmanship needs to stop,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for Supply Chain at the National Retail Federation, which Wednesday called on President Obama to intervene. “This stalemate is hurting American businesses, their employees and consumers.”

The ports won’t shut completely Thursday and coming days, the employer group said. Workers will still move goods already on the docks onto trucks and rail cars. And on non-holiday weekdays moving forward, L.A. and Long Beach terminal operators will have the option to increase shifts for unloading cargo, the association said.

The four-day cutback is the latest in a series of work reductions.

Unloading of ships at night at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports was stopped last month. The employer group said terminals were so overcrowded that they needed to focus on moving containers off the docks, without adding new cargo to the mix. Ship unloading was also temporary stopped last weekend.

The union, however, has said there is room for new containers and, as it did Wednesday, accused the employer group of cutting back port work to gain leverage in the contract talks.

Last week, employers said the already congested ports could soon become inoperable, leading them to shut operations and stop paying dockworkers. It urged the union to accept what it labeled an “all-in” contract offer with increases in wages and pensions.

Dockworkers are among the best paid blue-collar workers in the country, earning between $26 and $41 an hour, depending on experience and skill.


As mentioned in my previous post, I am very concerned about the repercussions to the US Supply Chain. With 43% of exports leaving the country through these west coast ports, there is a real danger of US jobs being severely effected by ongoing slowdowns and strikes at these ports.

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