Labor disruptions on West Coast threaten container ship delays and cargo logjam

As labor-related disruptions widen on the West Coast, most of the container ships coming through the biggest import gateway in the US face delays and threaten of another cargo logjam.

Richard Palmer of the Marine Exchange of Southern California giving an update on the operations through an email said, that every container vessel is having their schedule pushed back by about a day or two. He cites the lack of “lashers,” or longshoremen who secure containers aboard ships as the key reason behind these delays.

As per Palmer, agents for 10 of the vessels attributed the delays to the shortage of workers, while some didn’t specify a reason for the delay.

After 2015, this is the longest labor strike witnessed by the West Coast ports, as talks between port employers and dockworkers approach a full year without a contract. The International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union, representing 22,000 dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents ocean carriers and terminal operators, have been negotiating on contract since May 2022.

Ships thrown off schedule can have ripple effects at other ports along their routes.

Many terminals on the West Coast have been closed due to the labor shortages that started last week. This has resulted in an intermittent disruptions at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The previous labor contract covering 29 ports from California to Washington State expired July 1.

The issues has made it difficult to manage congestion. Eight container ships have been backed up and as many as 31 scheduled to arrive within the next week were delayed by a day or two, according to officials who monitor maritime traffic around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The snarls evoke a crisis that began in October 2020 with a backup of five vessels. Container ships laden with imported goods from Asia destined for consumers stuck at home overwhelmed the capacity of the ports, as well as the inland supply chain.

By the following February, that queue reached 40 vessels and dipped to nine in June 2021 before peaking at 109 in January 2022. In November 2022, the backup was finally cleared as trade volumes on the transpacific ocean lane plummeted and has remained clear since then.

Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, says that even if the congestion worsen, the protocols put in place will restrict the conditions to cause the same gridlock and air pollution seen during the worst of the pandemic.

Hoping that the new queuing system for labor protocols which was put during the pandemic will be followed Louttit said we anticipate that container ships will not cram into our waters, as the queuing system asks ships that don’t have a berthing time within three days of their arrival to wait offshore in a safety and air quality area.

“We dealt with 55 ships anchored plus 62 loitering in our waters once before and can do it again,” he said.

Speaking on the issue, the White House, which has authority to prevent an economy-crippling port strike, said that it respects the collective bargaining process and that the administration wants both sides to stay at the negotiating table until a deal is reached.

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