Congestion "No Longer Sustainable" at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports - Global Trade Magazine
  January 15th, 2015 | Written by

Congestion “No Longer Sustainable” at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports

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Los Angeles, CA – The increasing congestion at the largest container ports on the U.S. West Coast has reached a level that is “no longer sustainable,” according to the most recent statement released by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the industry group that acts as the bargaining agent for the ocean carriers and terminal operators that serve the ports.

The PMA and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), the union that represents the 20,000-plus dockworkers who handle cargo at the ports, have deadlocked after eight months of fruitless labor contract negotiations that have brought the cargo-handling operations at the ports most affected—Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma—close to the point of complete breakdown.

The urgency comes despite a federal mediator being assigned to referee the talks to renegotiate the dockworkers’ latest contract, which expired on June 30 of last year. Charges between the two parties have been flying back and forth over the past several days with the PMA accusing the ILWU of orchestrating work slowdowns.

“The PMA has a sense of urgency to resolve these contract talks and get our ports moving again,” says PMA spokesman Steve Getzug. “Unfortunately, it appears the union’s motivation is to continue slowdowns in an attempt to gain leverage in the bargaining.”

The union has denied the intentional slowdown charge saying that decisions made by the PMA, including no longer assigning crews to load and unload ships overnight at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two busiest container ports in the country, are largely responsible for the terminal congestion.

The PMA’s move to cease nighttime operations, says Getzug, “will not affect dayside work or certain night-shift employees who are not involved in loading or unloading ships.” Efforts would be “refocused during the night hours,” he adds regarding repositioning the growing number of empty containers that have accumulated in terminal yards over the past eight months, as many terminals have little room to accept empty cargo containers and more space is needed to stockpile them.

In an effort to mitigate the increasing congestion, earlier this week, the Port of Long Beach activated a “Temporary Empty Container Depot” to free up truck-trailer chassis needed to move loaded containers in and out of its marine terminals. The port has also facilitated the introduction by private chassis fleets of an additional 3,000 chassis into the local area and is working on a plan to operate its own chassis fleet for the increased demand of peak cargo shipping season.