Port Strike Could Hit Guam: East Coast Action May Overload West

By Cameron Miculka, December 26, 2012, Pacific Daily News

A potential strike on the mainland’s East Coast ports could affect cargo shipments to Guam and other Pacific ports.

The International Longshoremen’s Association — a union representing dockworkers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts — and the U.S. Maritime Alliance — a group of carriers and port employers — are currently locked in a stalemate over the issue of royalties paid to workers, said Michael N. Hansen, president of the Hawaii Shippers Council.

Hansen said that without an agreement between the groups or presidential intervention, the workers will draw the picket line Sunday, Dec. 30.

That could result in shipping companies taking their cargo to the West Coast, causing delays and congestion at those ports.

Ultimately, that means the Port Authority of Guam could see delays in shipment arrivals.

That’s a concern for port officials.

“Whatever affects the West Coast affects us,” said John B. Santos, port operations manager.

Santos said that any delays in arrivals will have an effect on the lives of any perishable goods being carried in the containers.

“Every hour they’re on the ships, their shelf lives lessen,” he said.

Furthermore, because many of the outer islands rely on this port for their goods, any delays to Guam cascade into delays for those shipments.

“It’s a domino effect here on Guam and the outer islands,” said Santos.

This is only the most recent strike that could affect Guam.

In late November, clerks and dock workers went on an eight-day strike in California, according to The Associated Press.

Even though that strike ended Dec. 4, Santos said the Port of Guam is still feeling effects such as the delays in some shipment arrivals.

Jeff Hall, public relations director for Matson Inc., said that if the strike does happen, he would anticipate only “minimal impact to Guam.”

That’s because Matson has its own facilities and terminals, meaning the company is, in a sense, insulated from congestion at ports because it doesn’t have to compete for port space, said Hall.

However, he said that a prolonged strike could result in labor shortages at some West Coast ports, such as the one in Oakland, Calif.

If that happens, Matson could get caught up in the congestion.

Mike Benito, general manager of Pay-Less Supermarkets, said he hasn’t heard any word from shippers about any potential delays or problems as a result of the strike.

“The shippers are pretty good about letting us know,” he said.

Because most of Guam’s produce comes from the West Coast, Benito said, strikes there are typically a bigger concern than those on the eastern seaboard.

Although the strike isn’t an absolute certainty, Hansen said both sides “are pretty dug in.”

However, Hansen said President Obama could invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, a 1947 law that would order an end to the strike for an 80-day “cool-off” period and mediation between the two groups.

The International Longshoremen’s Association recently released the terms of its strike.

The union has declared that any orders to handle containerized cargo not be honored. However, those pertaining to perishable goods, military supplies or similar goods at the ports be handled by dockworkers.

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