Like it never happened: In 3 weeks, backlog at Seattle, Tacoma ports will be cleared

Sarah Aitchison, February 25, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal

The containers are piled high on the docks right now, but don’t expect it to last.

The cargo backlog at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma will be clear in three weeks at most, said Linda Styrk, managing director of the Seaport at the Port of Seattle, Tuesday.

Normal operations at the ports began again on Saturday night after the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators at ports along the West Coast, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union signed a tentative, five-year agreement Friday.

It could take a few months for the deal to be ratified by the union and made official. But cargo operations will move at normal speeds. Before the deal, the ports were running significantly slower than usual.

United States Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who stepped in last week and helped the two parties reach a deal, said Friday he was confident the contract would be ratified based on the enthusiasm of ILWU negotiators.

Now, the Seaport Alliance has to fight to rebuild relationships with customers and regain confidence after nearly four months of ports operating at an estimated 50 percent of normal efficiency.

While the negotiations between the ILWU and PMA were underway, Washington state agricultural exports rotted on the docks instead of being shipped internationally and businesses that rely on the ports had to lay off employees.

“We’re going to have a lot of apple juice this year,” Styrk said, referencing Washington’s apple exports.

In December, the Washington State Apple Commission estimated losing $19 million a week because goods wasted away on the docks instead of getting shipped around the world.

The backlog up here is not as bad as in California, where it will take about three months to clear all the cargo backlog, Styrk said.

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