By Karen Robes Meeks, February 16, 2015
Ships anchored inside the breakwater, off the shores of Long Beach. 33
vessels stand stranded along the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,
including 21 container ships waiting to be unloaded of goods. Long Beach
Calif., Monday, February 16, 2015.
After months of shipment delays caused by bottlenecks at the Los
Angeles and Long Beach ports, Paul Scott had decided enough was enough.
director of Design 88 Inc., an Austin, Texas, firm that designs and
manufactures greeting cards and envelopes used by floral and grocery
stores across the U.S., could no longer tolerate weekslong delays of
cargo. The company, which employs 10 workers, recently lost a highly
profitable order because it could not guarantee a timely shipment
So the company began diverting shipments from the twin
ports to the Port of Houston just before Christmas. Shifting goods to
the Texas port means more money and longer delivery time, but at least
the shipment is guaranteed, Scott said.
“We need the certainty,” he said. “We can’t afford to roll the dice.
Across the nation, retailers are affected by the congestion that’s
been plaguing West Coast ports for several months. Several factors,
including the arrival of bigger ships carrying more cargo, the uneven distribution of trailers
needed to move containers, a shortage of rail cars and slowdowns caused
by an unresolved labor dispute have caused epic bottlenecks throughout
the supply chain.
As of Monday, 33 vessels were at anchor —
including 21 container ships filled with millions of dollars of goods
bound for locations throughout the country —but remain stranded in the
water, waiting to be unloaded.
The number of ships at sea rose over the weekend as work on
loading and unloading ships halted for four of the past five days. The
Pacific Maritime Association, the group representing port employers,
suspended vessel operations last Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday
because it said it didn’t want to pay dockworkers weekend and holiday
pay for slow work. Day shifts for loading and unloading ships are
expected to resume today, but ship operation night shifts have remained
canceled since Jan. 13.
The PMA is blaming the union for not providing enough crane operators
to clear congested yards. But the International Longshore and Warehouse
Union, which represents 20,000 West Coast dockworkers, said employers
have been ordering fewer workers to move cargo in the past several
months and added that the PMA will not hire and properly train employees
for the skilled work.
Both sides have been in talks over a new contract for the past nine months. Despite tentative agreements on two key items, contract talks have been contentious and slow, prompting a federal mediator and now President Barack Obama’s labor secretary, Tom Perez, to intervene in talks. Perez is scheduled to participate in negotiations today.
Political leaders celebrated the White House’s Saturday
announcement of Perez’s participation, but Jock O’Connell, Beacon
Economics’ international trade adviser, doesn’t think Perez’s
involvement will advance negotiations that the federal mediator who’s
been working with both sides for more than a month hasn’t tried.
"This seems to be a rapid response to political pressure” by trade associations and member of Congress, he said.
union said it is very close to an agreement, but the PMA is saying
there are still outstanding issues, including one major sticking point:
the ability to remove an arbitrator. The PMA has said the union wants
the right to fire an arbitrator who rules against them. The union said
both parties should retain impartial arbitrators, not those who favor
Meanwhile, industries big and small have had to contend with
delays, forcing company executives such as Scott of Design 88 to divert
goods to other ports, ship them by air or ride out the congestion.
companies are facing four-month delays in getting goods to shelves and
uncertainty over when components will arrive, according to VR World.
Citrus exporters, unable to ship produce overseas, have had to cut
employees’ hours and sell their products locally at cut rates.
Even comic book businesses are feeling the pinch. According to IDW
Publishing, the entirety of next week’s shipment will be delayed,
including latest issues of “Transformers,” which was set to release on
“Due to the ongoing problems at West Coast ports, our normal
shipping procedures have been completely interrupted, causing
unpredictable delays,” the company said in a statement. “Regrettably,
this has resulted in all our books planned for release on 2/18 to be
delayed. We’ve looked at every possible scenario to prevent this, but
the situation is completely beyond our control. We are taking steps to
improve this for the immediate future, but the books and products that
are currently on the water cannot be redirected.”
Steve Tayrien, owner of Ontario-based Leather Machine Co. Inc.,
said he has had to issue refunds because Christmas shipments of leather
cutting and sewing machines didn’t arrive on Dec. 5 as promised. They
arrived on Dec. 26.
“It’s not fair,” Tayrien said. “We’re still
behind and we have to explain to our customers who don’t really care
about our problems. They just want their stuff.”