As the threat of a shutdown of West Coast ports looms with contract talks between management and dockworkers dragging on, import cargo volume at the nation’s major ports is expected to rise 10.1 percent this month over the same time last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
It’s been nine months since the contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expired, and the lack of a contract and other operational issues has led to crisis-level congestion at the ports. The union represents 20,000 dockworkers. Retailers and other businesses asked President Obama in late December to engage with both parties and encourage the use of a federal mediator. A mediator arrived in San Francisco on Jan. 6 and talks have continued, but an agreement has yet to be reached.
“With cargo volume growing as the economy continues to recover, the last thing we need is a port shutdown that would bring billions of dollars of economic activity to a halt,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF. “Whether it’s in retail, manufacturing, agriculture or other industries, there are too many jobs that rely on the ports to let that happen. Labor and management need to do whatever it takes to reach an agreement and do it today.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.44 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in December, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was up 3.2 percent from November and 9.3 percent from December 2013. It brought the 2014 total to 17.3 million TEU, an increase of 6.6 percent over 2013’s 16.2 million.
Last month’s import cargo volume was estimated at 1.48 million TEU, up 7.5 percent from January 2014. February is forecast at 1.37 million TEU, which would be a 10.1 percent increase from last year, and increases are forecast through June that would bring the first half of 2015 to 8.8 million TEU, an increase of 5.8 percent over the same period last year.
“East Coast ports have been the beneficiaries of the labor disputes on the West Coast,” said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett, referring to the shift of market share that has occurred as cargo has been diverted in recent months due to the West Coast congestion. “We have to admit that we underestimated the level of the switch.”
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach; Oakland, Calif.; and Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast, and New York-New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga., and Miami and Port Everglades, Fla., on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.