Business & Economy

2 months after ports labor dispute, some still wait for shipments to arrive

The months-long labor standoff was difficult for Gardena-based Softline Home Fashions because more than a million dollars worth of fabric the company ordered got stuck on the docks.
The months-long labor standoff was difficult for Gardena-based Softline Home Fashions because more than a million dollars worth of fabric the company ordered got stuck on the docks.
Jae C. Hong/AP

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It has been more than two months since a labor dispute between dockworkers and shippers ended at West Coast ports, but the headaches for some local businesses have yet to subside.

Gardena-based Softline Home Fashions, which makes and distributes curtains and pillows, gets much of its fabric from China and India.

“Ninety-nine percent of our goods are coming through the ports,” said Jason Carr, President of Softline Home Fashions.

The labor standoff was a disaster for Carr, as more than a million dollars worth of fabric he ordered got stuck on the docks. Carr estimates 70 percent of that has now been delivered, but that leaves 30 percent still stuck.

“We have containers that have been there almost four months now,” said Carr. “More than cost for us, it effects our reputation.”

Carr is concerned he'll lose loyal customers when their curtains and pillows are not delivered on time.

"It doesn’t allow us to keep our rapport with customers,” he said.

Carr tried shipping cargo via air from Shanghai, but that proved too expensive.

“That’s a complete loss when we have to air in goods," said Carr.

He says re-routing goods to ports in Mexico, Canada or the East Coast is similarly cost prohibitive, and sometimes it's not any faster. As congested as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been, they remain Carr's best options.

"We have no choice,” he said.

Frank Layo, a partner at Kurt Salmon, an Atlanta-based retail consulting firm, said that's true for many retailers, though he’s seeing companies moving bits and pieces of their shipping elsewhere to avoid being overly dependent on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“A lot of our retail clients are transitioning to either the East Coast, or elsewhere on the West Coast to minimize the risk to their freight,” said Layo.

February's labor dispute brought to light long-simmering problems at the ports, he said, including a shortage of chassis used to haul away cargo, and difficulty handling today's fleets of mega-ships.

“The labor dispute grabbed a lot of the headlines, and at the same time really highlighted a supply chain risk that a lot of people didn’t think was going to come to fruition," said Layo. “Once it happened, and once they realized what was at risk, I think people have made the decision they will invest – and potentially pay more – for their cargo for predictability in times of crisis.”