Logjam at California ports causes ripples across US economy
By Alex Segura Lozano
Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oct 14 (EFE).- Two of the most significant economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – the surge in online ordering and a decline in the number of qualified truck drivers – have led to gridlock at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together handle 40 percent of cargo entering the United States.
The approach of the Christmas shopping season has given new urgency to long-brewing problems with the US supply chain.
Visible from the southern California coast are long lines of giant container ships waiting for up to 12 days, according to statistics provided to Efe by the Port of Los Angeles, to dock and unload their cargo.
Onshore, meanwhile, the truck drivers who take the containers to stores and warehouses can easily spend more than 10 hours at the port gates, Gio Marz, director of operations for transport company Atlas Marine, told Efe.
“There is a great deal of congestion. One often sees the drivers arrive at 10 in the morning and leave at 8 or 9 at night with a single cargo,” he said.
Besides the explosive growth of e-commerce during pandemic lockdowns, Marz pointed to a shortage of the truck-trailers that carry the containers as the other decisive factor in supply-chain disruptions.
The conventional wisdom is that the biggest problem behind the logistics crisis is a shortage of truck drivers, an account that Marz said “belittles” the efforts of the truckers.
John Drake, vice president for supply-chain policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, acknowledges the hard work of drivers and the shortfall of trailers, but emphasizes that the loss of some 100,000 truck drivers compared with pre-pandemic levels is far more important.
And it is not only drivers who are lacking, Drake told Efe, but also sufficient staff at the ports and warehouses.
Adan Alvarez, the Los Angeles-area spokesman for the 1.4-million-member Teamsters Union, categorically rejected Drake’s analysis.
“There is no lack of labor, but a lack of quality jobs,” he told Efe, adding that the US transportation industry “has exploited workers for decades.”
To avoid paying benefits, Alvarez said, most of the freight companies serving the southern California ports hire drivers as independent contractors instead of employing them directly.
But now, for the first time, the companies find themselves “in a situation where they have to attract employees,” giving workers “an opportunity to demand better conditions,” the Teamsters spokesman said.
Executives from transportation and retail giants such as UPS, FedEx and Walmart joined President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday to announce plans to extend operating hours to alleviate the supply-chain problems.
The president said that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will soon be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The respective port administrations signaled weeks ago that they would move in the direction of 24/7 operations, but at a press conference Thursday in Los Angeles, the executive director of the LA terminal stressed that the transition would take time.
“There’s not a single lever we can pull today to open up all the gates. But we’re trying to squeeze every minute and every hour of efficiency we can out of this port,” Gene Seroka said.
He was joined in front of reporters by White House Port Envoy John Porcari, who likewise warned of the difficulties involved even as he called for ports nationwide to adopt a 24/7 model.
“This is not flipping a light switch, as you well know,” he said. “As a nation, we have to have the flexibility and fluidity of 24-hour operations.” EFE