Fleet Management

California Port Carrier Feeling Lockout's Pinch

February 20, 2015

By Steven Martinez

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Photo via Port of Long Beach.
Photo via Port of Long Beach.

Shippers Transport Express works from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, but in the midst of stalled labor negotiations and shutdowns, all the fleet can do is wait.

The Obama administration's top labor official has called for a resolution to a labor dispute that has halted the flow of goods at the nation's busiest port complex.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez has set a Feb. 20 deadline to finish contract negotiations between longshoremen and the Pacific Maritime Association. If the deadline is not met, Perez will force the talks to move to Washington D.C., reports the Los Angeles Times.

The recent slowdowns and shutdowns of the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have caused trucking fleets servicing these ports, such as Carson, Calif.,-based Shippers Transport Express, to feel the pinch. The situation is growing more dire every day, according to Maria Medrano, operations manager at Shippers Transport Express.

“We have to cancel the drivers and we have to call them by seniority because we don’t have enough work to give everybody,” Medrano told HDT.

Shippers Transport Express employs 138 drivers with plans to take on 20 more, but because of the trickle of work coming out of the ports, the company has been sending 50% to 75% of drivers home each day. Currently, she says, ships are not able to offload their cargo at ports, and the only work available is what is already sitting on the shipping yard.

“This has been the worst,” said Medrano, who was also in the industry during a similar shutdown in 2002. “I have been in this industry for 20-something years and this is the worst I’ve seen it.”

Medrano estimated that as many as 10 loaded ships were waiting outside the harbors that haven’t been touched. While the longshoremen have been without a labor contract since last July, Medrano said the conflict has been affecting her business since January and as work has been slowing each week, it squeezes her fleet a little more.

“Honestly, to me it’s just nonsense,” she said. “It’s costing billions of dollars of damage across the whole industry and to me it’s ridiculous what they’re asking for.”

Shippers Transport Express recently had to resolve its own labor negotiations with about 100 of its full-time and part-time drivers after they were reclassified as employees. The company came to an agreement after only three days of bargaining, and the drivers, who were previously independent contractors, were given benefits such as overtime and medical insurance. As a result, the cost of employing drivers has increased for the company, which makes the slowdown in profits that much harder to take.

“We need to get back in business ASAP,” Medrano said. “We need the profit and we need to keep our drivers working.”

For fleets like Shippers Transport Express who are largely left in the dark about the specifics of labor negotiations between longshoremen and the ports, waiting in uncertainty is difficult.

“We're hoping it gets resolved within at least a couple of weeks,” said Medrano. “We’re hoping, but who knows.”

The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the two busiest ports in the U.S., moving a combined 15.1 million containers of cargo in 2014. The Port of Los Angeles alone moved cargo worth more than $238 billion 2007.

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