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Daily Breeze: Truckers, Longshore Workers to Clock More Hours as LA, Long Beach Ports Try to Reduce Cargo Backlog

Source: Donna Littlejohn, Daily Breeze

The plan, dubbed “Accelerate Cargo,” was formulated with input from supply chain stakeholders and the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with both ports, which serve as a national gateway for incoming goods from Asia.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will expand terminal gate hours for truckers, and nighttime and weekend hours for longshore crews in an effort to get freight moved out more quickly as a more than yearlong cargo surge has left dozens of ships waiting outside the harbor — threatening to cause a retail shortage ahead of the holiday shopping season.

The twin ports, the two busiest in the nation, announced the new measures on Friday, Sept. 17.

The measures are the first step toward reaching a 24/7 supply chain, which would ideally have to extend to warehouses and rail companies as well to fully address what is a chain-wide, coast-to-coast logjam, said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero.

The plan, dubbed “Accelerate Cargo,” was formulated with input from supply chain stakeholders and the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with both ports, which serve as a national gateway for incoming goods from Asia.

“We appreciate the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration,” Port of L.A. Executive Director Gene Seroka said, “in marshaling a response to the unprecedented global supply chain disruption so acutely felt here at the San Pedro Bay Port Complex.”

Noel Hacegaba, deputy executive director at the Port of Long Beach, said the changes will begin to be implemented “immediately.”

“We will kick-off the pilot program with one of our terminals,” he said, “and scale up as more shippers take advantage of these new nighttime gates.”

But questions remain on exactly how — and when — the full port-wide implementation could roll out, one stakeholder said.

“We haven’t seen any details,” said Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association. “This is more of a statement of what they’re planning to do.”

Specifically, he said, details of some points in the news release offer no detail about how “incentivized” priorities for moving cargo during non-peak times and how “corrective measures” might be applied.

“There are concerns about what the corrective measures are and we don’t know what an incentivized reservation system looks like,” Schrap said, adding that the association has been — and will continue to be — engaged in the ongoing talks.

The announcement comes as both ports have struggled to keep up with massive amounts of cargo flowing in since the summer of 2020. Arriving ships have sometimes had to wait for days before being ushered into port to unload.

And the line of ships has sometimes extended into south Orange County.

On Friday, Sept. 17, for example, there were 147 total ships in port at Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to figures provided by the Marine Exchange of Southern California. That broke the former record of 146 — set on Wednesday. It was at least the third time this week, that record was broken. Of those 147 in port on Friday, 86 were at anchor or in drift areas awaiting berth assignments to unload. And 95 were container ships — also a record.

Often, Schrap said, truckers will wait with an unloaded container to drop off — in what is known as a “dual transaction” when also picking up loaded cargo — only to be redirected to another terminal because the types of empties vary and all may not be accepted at that particular time at a specific terminal.

“There’s a tremendous amount of congestion,” he said, “and you can’t violate the law of physics that says there’s only so much space to go around.”

Added complications occurred this summer when the Chicago rail hub also began backing up with cargo being brought from Pacific ports.

Longshore workers are often praised by both port chiefs for putting in long hours and increasing productivity as the surge has played out. ILWU shifts start at 8 a.m., 6 p.m. and 3 a.m., with the third one — known as the “hoot” shift — not usually fully manned, according to the union contract.

ILWU Coast Committeeman Frank Ponce De Leon said workers “welcome the opportunity” for “extended gate and weekend hours.” Worker contracts, he added, already allow employers to hire workers for the third (3 a.m.) shift to provide cargo movement around the clock.

“Dockworkers have been breaking records moving more cargo than ever at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” he said, “and this move by the port directors will work only if others in the supply chain step up to the challenges.”

The Port of Long Beach, with the new measures announced Friday, is poised to “take bold and immediate action,” Cordero said, “to help the supply chain move the record cargo volumes that keep our economy moving.”

Cordero and Seroka issued remarks in written releases that went out from both ports.

The two ports will work with the trucking community, the release said, in helping operators understand the incentivized gate hours and how to take advantage of opportunities to move cargo in non-peak times.

But the details, Schrap said, will need more clarification.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said of the announcement Friday. “But unless we take a more holistic look, expanding gate hours is not going to solve all the challenges.

“We are a completely integrated supply chain,” he added, referring to the many pieces that have to be coordinated across the country. “But we’ve got to start somewhere and at least the discussion is happening.”

The reservation system now in place, Schrap said, isn’t working. He suggests opening gates two hours earlier in the morning. That, he said, would “make a huge difference for driver efficiency.”

More details about the program will be released next week, a Port of Long Beach spokesman said.

John Porcari, the ports envoy for the Biden administration’s Task Force on Supply Chain Disruptions, said in a written statement that he looked forward “to continuing to work with all stakeholders to strengthen the residency of our transportation supply chain.”

The two neighboring ports in the San Pedro Bay move approximately 40% of all containerized cargo entering the U.S.

The ports will continue working with the White House Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to alleviate bottlenecks and speed up the movement of goods to consumers while also expanding export opportunities for U.S. exporters, including agricultural producers.

Both ports have repeatedly broken cargo records since last summer — after an initial crash caused by the various business shutdowns intended to stem the spread of the coronavirus — and that surge is expected to continue into 2022.

The Port of L.A., in June, became the first port in the Western Hemisphere to move 10 million containers in a 12-month period. The Long Beach port, which last month had its best August in history, is expected to hit about 950,000 twenty-foot equivalent units — the standard cargo measurement — by the end of its fiscal year this month.

But the ensuing backlog has caused supply worries ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Ed Desmond, executive vice president of the Toy Association, spoke during Seroka’s monthly press conference earlier this week and urged folks to start shopping for presents early. Major retail chains, such as Target and Walmart, have chartered private container ships to transport their goods.

“Get out and buy toys now,” Desmond said. “If you see toys you think the kids are going to want for Christmas, pick them up now and tuck them away to make sure you have them. Right now, stores have a pretty healthy supply. We just don’t know what’s going to happen when we get down the road closer to Christmas.”

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