Business & Real Estate

Business returns to West Coast ports; relief for Sacramento shippers

Container ships wait at the dock to be unloaded at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 12. A contract agreement was announced late Friday between dockworkers and their employers, but straightening out the backlog of ships waiting to unload cargo is expected to take months at congested ports like Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles
Container ships wait at the dock to be unloaded at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 12. A contract agreement was announced late Friday between dockworkers and their employers, but straightening out the backlog of ships waiting to unload cargo is expected to take months at congested ports like Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles The Associated Press

After Friday’s tentative agreement in the months-long labor feud between West Coast dockworkers and their employer, it was business as usual at most of the affected 29 ports. The only exception was in Oakland, where a temporary shortage of experienced crane operators slowed cargo loading and unloading.

The return of normal port operations was welcome news by several Sacramento-area exporters, who’ve been saddled with extra expenses and business losses due to the prolonged labor dispute.

Jeff Donlevy, business development manager for Sacramento-based Recycling Industries Inc., said Monday he is “feeling a little bit better. Hopefully, things will start moving again soon.”

Donlevy’s company recycles and exports cardboard, newspaper and other paper products from four facilities in Sacramento and Yuba City. Much of what the company exports is headed for China, but the flow of paper products was cut to a dribble in recent weeks by the West Coast port slowdown and months-long labor standoff. His company’s storage facilities are stuffed with product that otherwise would be bound for export.

“We’ve fallen behind on our shipments by about 5,000 tons over the last five months,” said Donlevy two weeks ago. “At this point, we’ve had to get off-site warehouse space to store materials.”

Even after the union and maritime officials with a signed final agreement, Donlevy believes “the backlog of ships will probably take six to eight weeks to recover … and it will probably take us three to five months to fully recover.”

Richard Coyle, president of West Sacramento trucking company Devine Intermodal, also anticipates a long recovery period for his operations.

Normally, he oversees a busy fleet of trucks shuttling merchandise from the Sacramento region to the Port of Oakland for export overseas, but Intermodal’s trucks have been idled during the port gridlock.

“The news on Friday was very good,” he said Monday. “This morning, so far, it’s reasonably better, or more fluid, than it was last week, but it’s going to be a long slog digging out as you can surmise…We’re probably three months out from getting back to normal.”

The tentative labor agreement, reached late Friday, was between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has been without a labor contract since last summer. Last week’s talks were presided over by Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who flew to San Francisco last Monday at the request of President Barack Obama. Dockworkers must ratify the new contract, a process that could take weeks.

The months-long impasse affected California exports of raisins, rice, wine, almonds and other commodities.

In Oakland, a shortage of experienced crane operators slowed cargo unloading, according to the Associated Press. Port of Oakland spokesman Mike Zampa told the AP on Monday that nine ships are at berth, ready for cranes to move cargo, but only one ship was being worked on.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

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