Truckers, others ensnarled in port mess

| 10/15/2002

Who would have thought an 11-day labor dispute would so completely interrupt America's supply chain, creating an estimated $2 billion-a-day loss to the economy and a gnarly muddle for 2,600 waiting trucks and hundreds of offshore ships?

Evidently, President George Bush.

Bush risked some political capital by invoking the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the first president to do so since Jimmy Carter, in an effort to end the dispute between West Coast dock workers and shippers.

A federal judge in San Francisco Oct. 8 ordered an 80-day cooling-off period in the labor standoff that shut down shipping operations at 29 ports, leaving retail goods, manufacturing parts and food stranded on docks or on container ships offshore.

Even as things cool off, they stand to heat up. If no settlement is reached within 60 days, a three-member panel headed by former Republican Sen. Bill Brock will issue a report telling where the two sides stand. Union members would then be required to vote on management's latest offer. However, if members reject the offer and the 80 days pass, the standoff would resume.

Moreover, backlogged goods probably will not arrive at their destinations until Jan. 1, 2003, according to some estimates. And that assumes no further slowdowns during the "cooling off" period.

In Los Angeles, for example, truckers who lined up at terminals Oct. 10 faced a turnaround time of around five hours - nearly double the norm, said Joe Nievez, president of Qwikway Trucking Co., speaking to the Daily Breeze, Torrance, CA.

Nievez said it was too early to tell if the delay was caused by the large number of truckers who rushed to the terminals or by the pace of longshoremen's work.

Meanwhile, it seems only Mexican ports, lawyers and air shippers have benefited.

For example, OOIDA member Jim Shannon and his wife Athena were stranded at the Port of Oakland with 36,000 pounds of pork destined for the Orient. After waiting several days, they traveled to Englewood, CA, to forward the meat for shipment by air via Los Angeles International Airport.

And lawyers representing shipping lines, exporters importers and insurers will hash out who pays for delays and damaged goods.

Meanwhile, Mexican ports such as Ensenada in Baja California have received diverted shipments. One report tells of 20 trucks with merchandise ranging from bananas to Christmas toys that left Ensenada under police escort for the border city of Tijuana.

However, Mexican trucks hauling U.S.-bound fruit and vegetables underwent lengthy inspections by U.S customs officials, risking spoilage. Manuel Gomez, head of trucking association Canacar, told Reuters U.S. checks are "more exaggerated than usual," adding, "It doesn't matter that we are transporting products so their supply chain isn't interrupted."

Gomez said the delivery of goods was also delayed by the fact Mexican customs authorities had to issue special permits to allow local ports to dispatch cargo from the rerouted Asian vessels.

Meanwhile, trucking groups have asked U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta to suspend the hours-of-service rules until the ports are cleared of the containers. Another suggestion was to expand terminal operations to 24-hours a day, seven-days-a-week.
-- Dick Larsen, senior editor