Business & Economy

Backlog of 33 ships at ports as dockworker and shipper dispute continues

Ships wait to be loaded at the Port of Los Angeles in Long Beach on February 13, 2015. US West Coast ports have partially closed due to a dispute between staff and bosses along the key trade frontline with Asia. The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers, announced the suspension of loading and unloading of ships at 29 West Coast ports.
Ships wait to be loaded at the Port of Los Angeles in Long Beach on February 13, 2015. US West Coast ports have partially closed due to a dispute between staff and bosses along the key trade frontline with Asia. The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers, announced the suspension of loading and unloading of ships at 29 West Coast ports.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

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This Presidents' Day, many people have the day off, including longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports, although not really by choice.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shipping companies, have been battling over a new contract for roughly 20,000 dockworkers since last year. The PMA suspended the loading and unloading of ships through the holiday weekend, and President Obama told Labor Secretary Tom Perez to intervene. Both sides in the dispute have agreed to a 48-hour news blackout.

FAQ: What are dockworkers and shippers fighting about at the port?

Work at the ports resumes on Tuesday, but there will be a lot of catching up to do. Capt. Kip Louttit with the Marine Exchange told KPCC that on Monday, 33 ships carrying billions of the dollars worth of cargo remained at anchor, three more than the previous day. Capt. Louttit's agency, which has no ties with either side in the dispute, is charged with moving all the ships in the harbor and preventing collisions.

He says that unloading a ship at the port normally takes several days, "but with the congestion of several months, it's taking longer than that."

Along with the shipping companies and dockworkers, Cpt. Louttit's agency is also taking a hit with the slowdown. "Because the Marine Exchange is funded by ship count, and that is our revenue," he said, "we're about 40 ships below where we would normally be in a normal February."

Louttit says he thinks it will take several weeks to clear the backlog of 33 ships at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach.