Business owners voice frustration over temporary port shutdown

By KOMO Staff, February 8, 2015, KOMO News

Business owners and truck drivers are voicing their concerns over on-going issues between shippers and longshoremen at local ports. Their concerns reached new heights this weekend as vessel operations at ports up and down the west coast were temporarily suspended.


“It’s just really taken a toll on a lot of the drivers,” said truck driver Jim Hightower.


Hightower, who has a wife and 5 kids living at home, said up until several months ago he could get in, pick up or drop off a container, and get out within about 30 to 45 minutes. He’s recently been finding himself waiting for up to several hours.


“We can’t get our trips in, we can’t get the containers in, we can’t get the containers out, so the product we have sits,” Hightower said.


The situation has cost him and his fellow drivers money, he said.


The Pacific Maritime Association announced on Friday that it was temporarily suspending vessel operations at west coast ports amid contract negotiations that have dragged on for months. An association spokesman said members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have intentionally slow down operations for months.


But ILWU leaders in Tacoma said the public hasn’t received the full story about the situation. The PMA has reduced night shifts, which cut more than 50 percent of the available work hours in the port to load and unload ships, he said. And the union has continually requested more than 100 additional workers dating back to 2012, he added.


“It’s frustrating. It’s one of those things if you don’t have patience, though… you’re not gonna survive at it. So, you just have to sit it back and wait and hope,” Hightower said.


“We’re stuck in the middle and for everyday that things get delayed, we pay an extra fee,” said Mitch Greenblatt. He owns InSun, a small company based out of Bellevue that imports and wholesales indoor gardening equipment.


Greenblatt said he’s been told that his latest shipment from overseas is still on a vessel out in the Puget Sound. It’s already 2 weeks behind, he said.


As the owner of a growing business, Greenblatt said it’s unfortunate he’s been put in limbo just because 2 sides can’t agree.


“There’s no fighting it. We can’t kick and scream. More money won’t change anything. So, we just have to wait for the people who actually are involved and who are responsible to hopefully make good, fair decisions in and amongst each other so that we can get back on track,” Greenblatt said.


David Burroughs, Vice Chairman of Seattle-based manufacturer Cascade Designs, said he plans to send a letter to Senator Maria Cantwell on Monday to urge congressional action to get ports back to full operation.


Burroughs said his company has already lost millions of dollars in sales because of recent issues at west coast ports, and work hours have been cut back to try to minimize job loses.


Hightower said he hopes for a quick resolution.


“You guys, sit down and figure it out. You’re hurting everybody,” Hightower said.


Vessel operations are scheduled to resume on Monday, February 9th, a PMA spokesman said.

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