Port slowdown prompting long term impact?

Chris Daniels, December 15, 2014, KING 5

Another day, another cancelled contract.


That’s the view from a warehouse in this Lewis County city, which relies heavily on the shipping lines out of Seattle and Tacoma.


“We may lose a lot of that business,” said Pat Sauter, the general manager of the National Frozen Foods Corporation warehouse, as he walked through the storage area Monday night. He points at multiple shelves and pallets of food that he says have not moved in three weeks.


“That’s all ready to ship – one to 1.2 million in food. (Customers) want the product, but can’t get it,” said Sauter.


That’s because of the ongoing labor dispute at both ports, says Sauter. The ILWU, or Longshoreman’s Union, and the Pacific Maritime Association, the management arm for the West Coast ports, have been negotiating on and off for weeks. The union says it has been working without a contract since July, and the PMA accuses the union of engaging in a purposeful work slowdown.


On Monday, the Journal of Commerce reported that a new survey suggests a majority of shippers – two thirds, or 66 percent – say they will ship less cargo through West Coast ports in 2015, and directly through British Columbia and East Coast ports because of the slowdown. The survey, by the JOC, also suggest shippers’ patience has worn thin with delays and congestion at the western ports.


Port of Seattle Peter McGraw says he is aware of the survey, but remains hopeful the region will stay attractive to shipping lines in 2015 and beyond.


Sauter isn’t so sure, and says the slowdown has impacted how the company may do business going forward.


“If you keep cutting orders and keep cutting sales and you don’t sell the stuff, yeah, it can have a trickle-down effect,” said the GM, who employs 220 people in Lewis County.


“Once this is gone, it’s gone, and you don’t get it back. It’s a financial burden to everybody – all of us – in this game,” he added.


Both sides in the dispute were scheduled to meet on Monday, although it’s unclear if negotiations will continue.


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