Bill Mongelluzzo, Senior Editor | Dec 29, 2014 4:43PM EST | Journal of Commerce
Vessels on Monday were continuing to back up at anchor at the Port of Oakland and truck turn times were three hours or longer now that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has chosen the Northern California port as its latest target for work slowdowns on the West Coast.
“The turn times in Oakland continue to deteriorate. The minimum turn time per transaction is three hours,” said Richard Coyle, president of Devine Intermodal, a Northern California trucking company.
Targeted work slowdowns by the ILWU are not new to the West Coast, but they are new to Oakland during the union’s contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, which remain unresolved after eight months of negotiations that began back in May. The PMA said the union’s slowdown tactics, which are designed to gain leverage in the negotiations, began in late October in the Pacific Northwest and in Los Angeles-Long Beach.
But Oakland had been relatively trouble-free in recent months while its neighbors to the north and south experienced work slowdowns that compounded pre-existing congestion problems. Employers said Monday that beginning last week, productivity in Oakland dropped by as much as 40 percent, and lengthy truck lines developed at marine terminal gates.
Oakland is a major export port for agricultural products from California’s Central Valley, so the lengthy processing times are devastating to truckers as well as farmers. Coyle noted that many truck moves involve two transactions — dropping off one container and picking up another — so truckers are spending six hours at the port.
“This is not an exaggeration. This is reality. The result is that drivers who ordinarily would loop between the Central Valley and Oakland twice in a day can only do one before running out of allowable driving hours,” Coyle said.
“A Reno-Oakland loop that is a standard one-day feat is now taking three days to do two transactions, with drivers spending the night in their trucks at some in-between point due to lack of allowable driving hours,” he said.
In Southern California, port congestion and ILWU job actions have resulted in backups of vessels at anchor since earlier in the fall. Since it takes much longer for ships to be worked at Southern California versus Oakland due to many more containers being loaded and offloaded, some vessels upon arrival must wait at anchor until a berth is available at one of the 13 container terminals in the harbor. Oakland until now has not experienced this problem.
Port of Oakland spokesman Mike Zampa said that on Monday seven vessels were at berth, but eight were at anchor. Two were scheduled to move to berth and three were scheduled to arrive at anchorage.
The Oakland port would not comment on crane, terminal and gate productivity, saying that such information is controlled by the individual terminal operators. Generally, truck turn times vary from terminal to terminal and time of day, with street wait times during low-volume periods being 15 minutes or less, but exceeding one hour when traffic is heavy, the port said.
In addition to tarnishing the reputation of the Port of Oakland, the increased congestion is costing truckers and cargo interests a good deal of money. “We have now assessed a $250 surcharge on all loads and are passing it through to our owner-operators, and even with the additional payouts, many are quitting because they simply cannot handle the mental torture of sitting in the endless slog of terminal queues that stretch out onto the street, sometimes backed up onto the freeway,” Coyle said.
“Patience is wearing thin with cargo owners, too, who are advancing tens of thousands of dollars in demurrage because we cannot fetch their loads in a timely manner,” he said.
The ILWU did not specifically address the situation in Oakland. Throughout the negotiations the union has denied engaging in work slowdowns at any West Coast port.
The ILWU on Monday issued a statement calling for individual shipping lines to join the contract negotiations, which have been underway since May 12. PMA negotiators, rather than representatives of the shipping lines and terminal operators, are conducting the negotiations on behalf of the employers, the union stated.
“PMA’s principal decision makers have not yet, in seven months of bargaining, had a single face-to-face meeting with union negotiators,” said ILWU President Robert McEllrath.
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