Thursday, February 12, 2015

What the heck is going on at the ports?

Cargo Containers are delayed. Ports' dockworkers union and employers dispute. Many of our goods are stuck in limbo.


Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


According to several news reports, freight congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as well as several other major western sea ports has reached a serious level.

While the logistics and goods fulfilment sector and their jobs here in the Inland Empire continue to grow, cargo containers at the ports have recently ran into massive congestion with chronic delays. In addition, a worker dispute between port employers and a large dockworkers union representing 20,000 employees who load and unload cargo ships has been adding fuel to the fire, leading to a major controversy at the docks while our goods that we buy continue to sit on the boats and goods going out sit on the docks.

Because of the bottleneck, countless containers of freight are sitting idle contributing toward serious economic losses. Such cargo should be making its way through the ports seamlessly, either being exported out to sea or imported to their destinations on time. But many containers are currently sitting idle for no good reason. To make matters worse, the docks at the ports will be closed once again from now all the way through Monday due to the labor dispute. Rail, gate and yard operations will remain working, but there will be no loading or unloading of cargo ships.

Regarding the labor dispute itself, I don't work at the ports; so I don't have a clear picture of what's happening there other than what is being reported in the media. There may be important legit arguments from both parties that won't get reported. Those points have to be addressed before jumping to any conclusion toward any of the two parties involved.

But I'm not hesitant to conclude about this:  

The chronic shipping delays at the ports are clearly unacceptable.

The delays at the ports which were certainly preventable have damaged the Inland economy because businesses need those supplies to pass on to us, the end-user. How much exactly? That is not known, but it is certainly significant.

The material goods we use everyday like clothing, dishes, electronics, and furniture that we buy from retailers don't magically appear from the heavens. Many are made and passed through the ports to distribution and fulfillment hubs before they end up on the store shelves. By keeping the ports clogged, these local logistics and goods fulfillment businesses that rely on working ports are seriously threatened. If those companies are forced out of business simply because they cannot deliver what they promise to their paying customers, history will point back to this dispute and record the resulting economic and job losses. We simply cannot afford another crash.

Yes, some businesses predicted this would happen and ordered ahead of time, used the ports on the East Coast, or flew their shipments in. Some have been able to negotiate the delays with their customers and not lose out on the sales. But all of that adds unnecessary layers of cost and wasteful spending that should otherwise be invested back into the economy with additional jobs.

And shutting down ship loading and unloading operations at the LA ports for four days as a solution to solve a labor dispute while the backlog of idle cargo shipments continue to soar through the roof certainly was a foolish decision. The deciding party should have known better.

Moving forward, I expect the docks to be flooded with a productive team of workers first thing Tuesday morning with the yard, gate and rail crews lending helping hands as one team to get the freight moving. Those ports' backlogs need to be addressed immediately. If that doesn't happen soon, expect me to engage the business community that relies on these ports. That would put very heavy pressure on our politicians and the two parties to end the political football games, finally fix this mess and get our goods moving again.

Debate is Good...But let's stop the ideological football games...

To be clear, in our democratic republic, there will be disagreements between parties. Constructive, robust debates and negotiations are all good. And for tough cases like labor disputes, sometimes we need a third and impartial party to render a fair and unbiased judgement and solution that must be agreed upon. That's one of the reasons why criminal cases are tried before a jury in our justice system. Complex cases between employers and labor unions certainly will need witnesses from both sides to share their testimonies without fear of retaliation and an impartial third party should render a fair judgement. But we don't need foolish gamesmanship, or political threats that obstruct the economy and the general public's welfare.

Docking crews must have a safe environment for their work and be paid fairly with equal opportunities to advance through the logistics economic system as they gain workplace experience and learn new skills. The forced-labor conditions, lack of opportunities and awful environments in many third-world countries exposed by Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and other groups last decade show that there clearly needs to be efficient oversight on labor with workers having the right to organize and address problems collectively. But employers must be able to make a profit, hold workers accountable if they fail to produce, hire the most qualified applicants, and have the authority to award productive workers who actually bring value to their companies the lion's share of the wages and promotional opportunities. If you work productively, perform well, are dependable, take initiative to bring value to the company, and want to learn, your employer should have the power to advance you.  That's the fair way to increase worker wages and benefits.

It's long past time for we the people to stop tolerating these divisive ideological football games that have caused more harm than good. All I'm asking for is for the parties at the ports to solve the traffic congestion issue so that our goods can be moving again and delivered to their destinations on time.

Is that really too much to ask?

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