With a tentative labor contract waiting for ratification, the push is on to bring back cargo that migrated to Gulf and East Coast ports beginning in August 2022 back to the Los Angeles gateway.
Port of L.A. Executive Director Gene Seroka was to be on a plane Wednesday night for the first of two trips planned just this month to Washington, D.C., seeking federal dollars and support.
“Now the real work begins,” Seroka said Wednesday, July 12, at his monthly virtual press conference.
There was also some good news: June cargo numbers edged up, thanks to an early start of what’s known as the port’s “peak season” when fall goods begin to arrive from Asia.
More than 833,000 twenty-foot units (the industry’s standard for measuring shipping containers) flowed in during the month of June, Seroka said, “just 5% off from last June’s all-time record” and the port’s strongest monthly performance since July 2022.
But July 2023, Seroka added, looks to be a softer month and the 4.1 million TEUs that have been processed since January — at what is now 2023’s half-way mark — is a 24% decline from the same period in 2022. Seroka still anticipates a stronger second half of 2023.
The Port of Long Beach’s June cargo numbers also are expected to be released soon but were not available Wednesday.
It all makes bringing back between 10% and 15% of the L.A. cargo that has strayed to other ports — much of it due to concerns about the unresolved labor issues — even more urgent for the West Coast gateway.
So far, Seroka said, “I’ve not seen a massive shift of cargo owners coming back,” but added: “Realistically speaking, I like our chances.”
Appearing with Seroka this month was Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su who flew to San Francisco earlier this month to assist in the stalled contract talks between the International Longshore and Labor Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.
“My plan was to go there to meet with the ILWU and PMA and assess the situation,” she said. “My goal was to support the collective bargaining process. They’d been negotiating for 13 months” and a few issues remained on the table, said Su, who is still awaiting U.S. Sentate confirmation of her appointment made by President Biden.
She wound up staying for several days. At the end of her visit, there was an announcement that a tentative agreement was reached.
“I was not there to tell them what to do but to support the process and to be a reminder of everything that was at stake, (to help them) see a path forward,” Su said.
ILWU delegates are scheduled to meet in Long Beach on July 17 to consider whether to move the tentative agreement on to the union’s full membership for a vote.
Responding to a question about whether the Taft-Hartley Act could come into play should there be issues with ratification, Su said, “It’s way too premature to even talk about that. … We remain hopeful of how this process will turn out, let’s see what happens in the next couple months.”
Asked about the looming deadlines for both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to transition to zero-emissions (for terminal yard equipment by 2030 and for trucks by 2035), Seroka said there remain challenges.
Among them: how fast the technology can produce commercially-available — and affordable — equipment.
Zero-emissions trucks can cost about $450,000 with hydrogen models between $700,000 and $800,000, Seroka said.
Truck drivers, he said, make about $67,000 a year and typically buy used “cleaner” diesel trucks for about $50,000.
“So there’s a need to make (trucks and equipment) more affordable and to have the spare parts and drivers trained to operate” the vehicles, Seroka said.