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West Coast Ports: Contract talks continue...and so does the flow of goods

Cargo continues to move through West Coast ports
Cargo continues to move through West Coast ports
Photo by Izabela Reimers via Flickr Creative Commons

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It’s been almost three months since a labor contract that covers dockworkers at the Ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and 27 others on the West Coast expired.  But negotiations on a new contract continue, and so does the flow goods. 

Neither the International Longshore and Warehouse Union nor the Pacific Maritime Association has raised the possibility of a strike or lock-out. About a month ago, both sides announced they’d reached a tentative agreement on one of the most contentious issues on the table — health benefits. But both sides have been quiet since then.

"This year’s negotiations, although they’re longer, have been quieter and seem to be much friendlier talks than…maybe ever," said Port of Long Beach spokesman Art Wong.

Wong says cargo volumes at his port slipped a little in August after surging from April through June,  when shippers were expediting imports ahead of the labor contract’s expiration. 

"We’ve seen a lot of misplaced anxiety," said International Trade Economist Jock O’Connell.  "I think people are getting comfortable with the fact that there’s been no disruption, and we're past the peak period when disruption would be particularly catastrophic."

O’Connell added that most of the goods destined for store shelves for peak shopping periods from back-to-school through the holiday season have made it into the country. He says shipping companies did divert some goods away from west coast ports in favor of ports in Canada and on the east coast. That doesn't always prove beneficial, he says, because other ports don't have the infrastructure needed to process big cargo loads quickly.

"You've got ships calling at the Ports of LA and Long Beach that, on average, probably drop and load as many as 5,000 containers per port call, and lots of ports aren't equipped to manage that flow," O'Connell told KPCC.

For the Port of Los Angeles, August was the strongest month of cargo volumes in the last four years. Container imports increased 7.8 percent from of August 2013, and exports rose 6.16 percent, according to data released by the Port of LA last week.