“All my business this week has been put on hold because they don’t want twice as much fruit arriving at the same time,” Joe LoBue, vice president of export marketing at Lindsay, Calif.-based LoBue Bros., said Dec. 3.
That amounts to more than $230,000 in lost business during a week when LoBue planned to ship 15 containers. Only a few loads for Australia were unaffected.
Clerical workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 went on strike against terminal operators and shipping lines in both ports Nov. 27.
“There are 700 (clerks) but the bigger issue is that the picket line is being honored by all of the longshoremen, 10,000 or so,” said Phillip Sanfield, director of media relations for the Port of Los Angeles.
The labor action shut down 10 of 14 cargo terminals in the two cities — seven in Los Angeles and three in Long Beach, said Daniel Yi, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. Los Angeles has just one terminal still operating.
“There’s such congestion now that when they do get it settled, it could take another week to 10 days to straighten out the port,” LoBue said. “If you’re talking two or three weeks, it could easily cost me $1 million.”
Exporters of broccoli and celery were also affected by the strike, said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers. “Definitely veggies have been hit too,” he said.
“We’ve had calls from a few exporters who are aware of the situation and just trying to make the best of it,” Gilliland said. “It’s hit or miss depending on where the customer is located and whether it can be handled out of a different port.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” he said. “Exporters have to wonder, ‘Do I take this order, try to fill it and hope the strike’s off by the time I ship?’ Or maybe it can ship out of Oakland, depending on where you’re going and what carrier you use.”
Los Angeles has seen nine ships divert to Oakland or Ensenada, Mexico, Sanfield said. Eleven more are offshore. Any refrigerated containers among the 10 ships in port continue to have power.
LoBue sees a short time frame for resolving the strike before fruit now sitting in the container yards is returned.
“A week shouldn’t make a big difference, but if it takes much more than that, you’re going to shorten the shelf life at the other end,” he said. “Some customers have already told me they don’t want to take the risk so they’re sending it back (before loading).
“They’d have a trucker pick it up and bring it back to me. What do I do with two-week old fruit?”
Some refrigerated goods diverted to Oakland or Ensenada could end up in Los Angeles or Long Beach again, Sanfield said.
“Some exporters are trying to get their stuff up through Oakland,” Gilliland said. “But if that’s a ship that then has to go to L.A., it’s not going to work. It’s starting to create a problem.”
“The boats that go from Long Beach to Oakland are not coming up until they get unloaded, so they’re all stuck,” LoBue said. “We can’t get out of either port. The whole California program is shutting down.”