Dockworker Slowdown Hits Already Congested Ports of L.A. and Long Beach

Container ships sit in berths at the Port of Los Angeles, California October 15, 2014. A shortage of transportation equipment and possible labor disruptions at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the nation's busiest, is delaying shipping containers for up to three weeks, threatening timely delivery to retailers for the holiday season. Picture taken October 15, 2014. To match RETAIL-SHIPPING/HOLIDAYS  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Container ships sit in berths at the Port of Los Angeles, California October 15, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Lynn Doan

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) — Pacific Coast dockworkers negotiating a new labor agreement have expanded a work slowdown to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest shipping complex in the U.S., management said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has refused to supply workers to operate yard cranes that place cargo containers on trucks and railcars, the Pacific Maritime Association said in a statement. The job action “will leave half of the yard crane positions unfilled,” Wade Gates, a spokesman for the terminal operators and shipping lines said by e-mail.

The disruptions come as goods destined for holiday shoppers are being unloaded at unionized ports from San Diego to Bellingham, Washington. The slowdown also threatens to worsen congestion at the Southern California ports, where shippers are facing equipment shortages and rail delays.

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“This is adding to the already substantial list of issues contributing to congestion,” Bruce Chan, associate transportation and logistics analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., said by telephone from Baltimore. “We’re OK as far as items on the shelves are concerned. What we’ll probably see is some cost pressure for shippers and retailers potentially filtering down to consumers.”

20,000 Dockworkers

The slowdown started this week in Seattle and Tacoma after the maritime group responded to a union proposal, Gates said, without elaborating. Negotiations have been under way since May to replace a six-year contract that expired July 1.

Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the 20,000-member union based in San Francisco, said the two sides met for negotiations today and yesterday.

“That’s the way to get the problem solved and the contract resolved so that everything can get back on track,” Merrilees said. “The problems in Southern California with congestion and mismanagement go back months and years, and the industry needs to address those self-inflicted causes and not just point fingers at the union.”

The Port of Los Angeles accounted for 31.2 percent of tonnage entering the West Coast in 2013, down from 32 percent the year before, according to a report by the maritime association. The neighboring Port of Long Beach is the second- largest on the West Coast, accounting for 29.7 percent of volume, the report said.

Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, declined to comment on the maritime group’s assertions. Art Wong, a spokesman for Long Beach, said the number of ships waiting to anchor at the port rose by two today.

“Yesterday, we only had one ship waiting and, for a few days before that, we had none,” Wong said. “I don’t know if it’s related to this. I was hoping it was going to be just a one-day thing, until I saw this thing about a slowdown.”

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