U.S. West Coast Labor Disruptions Ease but Slowdown Continues

CNBC, June 10

The “slow and go” pace of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union workforce at West Coast ports has slowed ground port productivity to a crawl. As a result, supply chain intelligence company MarineTraffic data shows what it is calling a “significant surge” in the average number of containers waiting outside of port limits.

At the Port of Oakland, during the week of June 5, the average TEUs (ton equivalent units) waiting off port limits rose to 35,153 from 25,266, according to MarineTraffic. At the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the average TEUs waiting off port limits rose to 51,228 from 21,297 the previous week, said a MarineTraffic spokeswoman. There are 86,381 containers floating off the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles, and Long Beach.

According to data exclusively pulled for CNBC by Vizion, which tracks container shipments, the seven-day rate for a container cleared through the Port of Oakland is operating at 58%; at Port of Long Beach it is 64%; and at Port of Los Angeles it is 62%.

Logistics managers with knowledge of the way the union rank-and-file displeased with unresolved issues in negotiations with port management are influencing work shifts tell CNBC the slowdown can be attributed to skilled labor not showing up for work. CNBC has also learned that at select port terminals, requests for additional work made through official work orders are not being placed on the wall of the union hall for fulfillment. The Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates on behalf of the ports, is not allowed in the union hall to see if the terminal orders are indeed being requested. CNBC has been told that if the additional job postings were being put up the data would show they are not being filled. Only original labor ordered from the PMA is being filled.

The PMA said in a statement on Friday afternoon that between June 2 and June 7, the ILWU at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach refused to dispatch lashers who secure cargo for trans-Pacific voyages and unfasten cargo after ships arrive. “Without this vital function, ships sit idle and cannot be loaded or unloaded, leaving American exports sitting at the docks unable to reach their destination,” the statement read. “The ILWU’s refusal to dispatch lashers had been part of a broader effort to withhold necessary labor from the docks.”

PMA cited a failure on Wednesday morning to fill 260 of the 900 jobs ordered at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and in total, 559 registered longshore workers who came to the dispatch hall were denied work opportunities by the union, PMA asserted in its statement.

“Each shift without lashers working resulted in more ships sitting idle, occupying berths and causing a backup of incoming vessels,” it stated.

However, the PMA said ILWU’s decision to stop withholding labor has allowed terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to avert, for now, “the domino effect that would have resulted in backups not seen since last year’s supply chain meltdown.”

The PMA cited “generally improved” operations at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland, but at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, a continuation of “significant slowdowns.”

The ILWU has declined to comment, citing a media blackout during ongoing labor talks.