SAN FRANCISCO   – West Coast ports were closed last weeked and this, in a management lockout following months of negotiating over a union contract with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Furniture makers like Flexsteel say it is affecting business.

According to wood products manufacturers surveyed by the purchasing managers group ISM, "West Coast port dock slowdowns, coupled with railroad embargo are all creating logistical challenges and increased backlog of orders."

The dispute is centered around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - the busiest in the U.S., but has affected shipping all along the West Coast, as well as the freight rail system feeding those ports.

In Long Beach alone, trade valued annually at more than $180 billion moves through, making it the second-busiest seaport in the United States. It handles clothing and shoes, furniture and other consumer goods imports which then are shipped around the country. Specialized terminals also move lumber, steel and other products.

Delays in unloading goods arriving in Long Beach and Los Angeles - the dispute began last fall - has driven shippers north to Seattle and Vancouver. Back-ups also extend all over the U.S., as railroad freight lines hold back shipments to avoid worsening the container freight traffic jams on the West Coast.

Frustrated by a slowdown by dockworkers, who have continued to be paid in the post-contract period, The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which owns the docks, announced Feb 6 that weekend vessel loading and unloading operations would be temporarily suspended last weekend, though yard, rail and gate operations continuing at terminal operators’ discretion. A four-day closure will also take place this weekend.

“After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates, “especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock.”

Though vessel operations resumed Monday, February 9, there are miles of freighters in the Pacific offshore from Los Angeles Harbor. 

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