The Chinese New Year begins tomorrow (Thursday, February 19th), however the loads of goods such as celery, broccoli, and lettuce that were sent to Asia weeks ago don’t have the slightest chance of making it in time – due to the labor slowdown on West Coast ship ports.
The ongoing 14-week labor dispute between the operators of 29 port terminals and the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union – which represents 20,000 dockworkers, truck drivers, teachers, and healthcare workers) has brought on a massive worker slowdown – causing ships and cargo containers to stack up from Seattle to San Diego – leaving contents to spoil and merchants without goods.
Some ports shipping times have doubled and tripled. When the Los Angeles port opened after the weekend shutdown (on February 7th and 8th) of the 29 West Coast port terminals by PMA (Pacific Maritime Association), cranes began unloading as early as 9:00 AM, but many ships were still stuck sitting offshore.
According to Adan Ortega, a spokesperson for ILWU’s Local 13, ship and terminal operators may have been purposely slowing down work to make a larger profit. Ortega says that one-third of the typical workforce has been unloading the ships, “they are expecting 45 workers to do the work of 120. They created this situation.” He also says that there is no real backup at the ports and that operators seem to be creating an “illusion of congestion.”
However, the port operators claim that the backup is real – and is being caused by the worker slowdown.
According to PMA spokesman, Steve Getzug, “Since November 3 at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the union has refused to dispatch skilled workers who operate yard cranes.” Getzug says that only one-third of crane operators is being sent out. Without crane operators, containers can’t be moved from ports off of ships onto trucks and trains – that backs up the process.
As a result, customers are now asking for air shipments, and companies have no choice but to pay higher transportation charges.
According to Tyson Foods CEO, Donnie Smith, 25% of pork is exported (mostly to Asia). The American Meat Institute has estimated a loss of $30 million weekly for meat and poultry producers.
ILWU’s contract that represents West Coast dock workers expired on June 30th, and talks have been going on between PMA and ILWY ever since. – One of the big issues being chassis for tractor-trailers that are being utilized to move cargo containers once they’ve reached the port. Those chassis were owned by the shipping lines up until last year, and were being inspected by longshoremen. However, now that drivers at West Coast ports (as most ports do) own or lease the chassis – inspection is being outsourced.
ILWU is lobbying for ports to require chassis inspections by union workers prior to the truck’s entry onto port property. Shipping lines are saying that they can no longer make those demands since they don’t own the chassis.
Another major issue is the demand for automation, similar to the way ports in Europe and Asia operate. Robotics have replaced a number of union longshoremen and are able to more efficiently unload the ever-growing cargo loads.
Currently, the biggest concern is that the dispute will eventually lead to a union strike or owner lockout – which would shut the ports. An event that has happened before (for ten days in 2002) – it resulted in millions of dollars in losses and only ended after President George W. Busch invoked the Taft-Hartley labor relations law.
40 cargo ships waiting to unload at Long Beach Port & now a rail strike in Canada. Thank Unions for holding up goods pic.twitter.com/r7F6NkIFIu”
— Brent Edmonson (@BrentEdmonson) February 15, 2015
West Coast port strike is a bummer but leads to some great morning scenes pic.twitter.com/EdgoCpDsDp
— Mike Knecht (@mpknecht) February 14, 2015