Cargo Can’t Go? Congestion Crisis Escalates in US Port

For those who imported frozen french fries, NBA bobbleheads, and yoga apparel from the United States, expect your shipment to be delivered sooner than later.

Shipment delays from cargo backups in the U.S. West Coast stretches into its third month. Congestion is most pronounced at the country’s busiest port hubs, the Los Angeles and Long Beach twin ports.

Contract talks

While the ships used to deliver the cargos have no mechanical problems, as these even observe lifeboat safety measure, the issue lies with the people manning them.

The slowdown of shipment started in mid-October of this year in which both ports saw a fluctuation between eight to 18 ships waiting for dispatch. Corollary, there have been 11 fully stacked freighters waiting to arrive at the ports since Thursday of last week.

The congestion coincides with the equally convoluted labor talks between thousands of dockworkers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, a group representing shipping lines and operators. Both worked together in the West Coast ports until the contract of PMA expired this June 30.

In the hopes of increasing their bargaining chips upon renewal of their contract, the Association complained about the slow work provided by the dockworkers. While the Union denied protest activities causing any delays, it did acknowledge the possibility of dockworkers slowing down due to their shared frustration over contract talks made by PMA.

Other reasons to the congestion crisis pointed out by port officials and the Union include lack of chassis for the tractor-trailer used to haul containers from the port and the record volumes of cargoes and large vessel containers delivered during this peak season.

The biggest losers

As the labor dispute in the West Coast ports continues, the real losers of this squabble are those expecting goods from the cargoes.

McDonald’s in Japan are forced to serve small-sized fries due to the lack of frozen fries supply delivered to them. While they started importing 1,000 tons of fries flown in the air since Monday of last week, the next 1,600 tons will be delivered by sea on January of next year. Before then, the provided supply won’t be enough to be distributed among the 3,100 chains all across Japan.

Other Asian countries in need of frozen fries are being shipped with supply that is routed from Portland, Oregon and Seattle-Tacoma. However, delivery time has ballooned from two weeks to four weeks.

The Golden State Warriors, an NBA team in Oakland, California, was expecting to receive Sarunas Marciulionis bobbleheads from the cargo. Marciulionis is an ex-Warriors and Hall of Famer who one was the first European basketball player to play in the NBA. However, due to the delay from the ports, the organization was forced to send out 10,000 vouchers to fans waiting for the bobbleheads.

Lululemon Athletica, a Vancouver-based yoga apparel store, will feel the pangs of lowered sales this month as around 1 million yoga garments are stuck in the ports, delaying shipments to their branches from up to 10 days.

FedEx, a delivery service provider known for providing impeccable service quality, has even turned away from freight delivery due to the congestion crisis.

“The slowdown in the West Coast ports has been a much bigger deal than people think and a tremendous amount of inventory was simply not put through the ports in the timeframe that the retailers had expected,” says Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, to investors.


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