(UPDATED COVERAGE Dec. 6) The end of an eight-day strike that shut down most operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach left exporters still wondering when fresh produce would get loaded and shipped.
Container terminals reopened Dec. 5 at both California ports as clerical workers in International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 reached a tentative contract with operators and shipping lines.
Terms of the federally mediated settlement were not disclosed. The union sought limits on outsourcing. In Los Angeles about 700 striking harbor clerks were backed by thousands of longshoremen who honored their picket line.
The strike cost the local economy about $8 billion, according to Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Joe LoBue, vice president of export marketing at Lindsay, Calif.-based LoBue Bros., estimated a loss of about $460,000 over two weeks in orders canceled or not placed. The damage isn’t quite done, he said.
“We’re at least a week away,” he said Dec. 6. “The strike is resolved but the congestion is not. I’m sitting here Thursday morning with no customers at all yet saying they’re going to take something. Usually we’ll have some pre-booked. Instead they say, ‘I need three loads, but I’ve got to wait to see if this clears up.’”
LoBue Bros. citrus was still sitting at the ports Dec. 6 waiting for ships. The cold chain was maintained, but there were concerns about arrival conditions and the possibility of a spike in orders that could challenge capacity.
Sunkist Growers had just under 100,000 cartons of citrus, mostly navels and lemons, on the docks waiting for the strike to end, said Mike Wootton, senior vice president.
“It’s going to delay delivery by 10 days to two weeks,” said Wootton, who expects the fruit to arrive in good shape. “This is just the advent of the export shipping season to Asia for citrus. The volume of orders was not as great as it would have been in January or February. It would have been a major disaster then.”
Exporter Phil Hartman, managing director of San Luis Obispo-based Cal Ex Trading Co., was less optimistic.
“I think the impacts will be far greater than just eight days,” Hartman said. “We had a 10-day strike in 2002 and it took months before they could get boats back in the right rotation.”
“The biggest fear I have is that we’re going to miss a shipping window for New Year in the Far East,” Hartman said. “Japan especially celebrates New Year; they shut down for a week so they like to get a lot of stuff in ahead of time.”