A half-dozen large shippers polled on a not-for-attribution basis by American Shipper
this week said they were surprised by how quickly the breakdown in contract talks between clerical workers who work at terminals and steamship agencies in Southern California developed into a strike that has shut down 10 of the 14 container terminals in the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Clerks, who work for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit, first struck a single terminal last Tuesday, and the strike spread to 10 terminals the next day. Other members of the ILWU are honoring the picket lines, effectively closing most of the capacity of the two ports.
Even shippers who don’t use the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles heavily said they're being affected. For example, some of them are worried that vessels that are supposed to call Oakland after Los Angeles may be late arriving, affecting container deliveries in that region by at least 2-3 days. However, most vessels that could be diverted in time are calling Oakland first.
Some shippers said they had cargo even diverted to other terminals Mexico. The Marine Exchange of Southern California said Monday afternoon that 17 ships had been diverted.
Other shippers had cargo on terminals in the port and on railroads headed to the port or on vessels waiting to unload. Once the port terminals reopen shippers are already expecting delays of a week or more to receive their freight.
By this time of the year, most Christmas merchandise is already off terminal, though one shipper warned a handful of backup orders could be affected.
Several of the shippers surveyed said they would like to see the White House intervene in the dispute, and would be surprised if the administration doesn't act soon to tamp down the negative economic effects of a prolonged strike in the Southern California ports.
The shippers are also concerned that the strike on the West Coast may portend badly for the continuing negotiations between longshoremen on the East and Gulf coasts which are represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association.
The ILA and the U.S. Maritime Exchange, which represents the employers of their members, are due to resume negotiations on Dec. 10 in Delray Beach, Fla. - Chris Dupin