WASHINGTON — Retailers are experiencing significant delays in processing cargo at the Port of New York and New Jersey and are growing concerned that the backlog could lead to empty shelves in stores.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association sent a letter to Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and deputy executive director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, imploring officials to help alleviate the backlog, while outlining a series of initiatives the industry believes will resolve the situation.

“The disruptions that have been taking place at the port have had damaging consequences on the delivery of retailers’ goods,” said Kelly Kolb, RILA’s vice president for government affairs. “As the timing of the arrival of the post-Chinese New Year shipments approaches, retailers are concerned that further disruptions will take place resulting in lost sales, empty shelves and disappointed customers.”

Severe winter weather has forced the Port Authority to temporarily close terminals, which slowed operations, but RILA said the backlog of cargo has become “unreasonable and should be considered an extremely serious matter to all of those involved in the operations at the port.”

RILA detailed a laundry list of problems it said its members, which include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and VF Corp., are experiencing. They include “massive lines” outside of terminals resulting in slower turn times, shortages of chassis, a lack of drivers and a shortage of port and terminal workers.

Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, told WWD separately that the group’s members have been facing delays ranging from a few days to more than a week.

“They have heard from their trucking partners that they have had to wait five-plus hours at some terminals to get into the gate,” Gold said. “This means they are only getting one turn instead of the multiple turns they usually get. The port and terminal operators need to find a way to get through the backlog.”

Port officials did not return calls seeking a response to the RILA letter by press time. But the Port Authority said late last month that the Waterfront Commission and the New York Shipping Association are in the process of hiring 150 new dock workers to improve productivity and efficiency at the complex. The agency has also formed a Port Performance Task Force to address congestion at terminals and on inner port roads, more efficient movement of cargo and the advent of larger shipping vessels.

RILA outlined some steps the Port Authority should consider to resolve the situation. It said terminals should staff themselves for a two-shift operation at a minimum, including weekends and holidays until the backlog is cleared and normal operations return; chassis inspections should be conducted in a safe and “reasonable” manner that does not disable units that are not an “immediate hazard,” and fees assessed during the delays should be suspended until full operations are restored.

On the broader port front, President Obama signed an executive order on Wednesday to help accelerate and streamline the processing of imports and exports at U.S. ports.

The executive order mandates the completion of the International Trade Data System by December 2016. The system will allow businesses to electronically submit their import and export documents to the federal government through a “single window” in order to get approval to process cargo. Businesses currently have to submit information to dozens of government agencies, often using paper forms, which slows down processing.

The White House said in a fact sheet that the order will cut “processing and approval times from days to minutes for small businesses that export American-made goods and services.”

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