AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition

To anyone reading this blog, this is a fantastic statement by the AgTC to explain the current situation between the ILWU/PMA, the struggles that Agriculture has and will continue to have, and the outlook of the West Coast ports depending on how these negotiations go. -Shelly

AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition
Initiation of Federal Mediation of West Coast Port Contract Dispute

January 6, 2015

Contact: Peter Friedmann, Executive Director, executivedirector@agtrans.org

Abigail Struxness, Program Manager, abigail@agtrans.org

202-783-3333

www.agtrans.org

The AgTC appreciates that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services has now undertaken to help the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU- representing the longshore workers) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA- representing the marine terminal employers) resolve differences. FMCS Press Release. This is an essential step, as the injury caused by port labor slowdowns, walk-offs and disruption has rendered West Coast ports dysfunctional. Months ago exporters and importers asked the White House to get involved. The result of the West Coast port disruption over the past 6 months has been hundreds of millions of dollars of lost sales, cargo damage, and lost customers to US agriculture, manufacturers, farmers, and retailers, not to mention lay-offs in each of these sectors. This disruption and injury continues today.

The AgTC seeks from this Mediation, not just any new contract between the ILWU and PMA. While that would provide temporary relief, it would not lead to improvements in port operations that are essential to meet the challenges facing west coast ports and the importers and exporters dependent upon them. The AgTC presented to the President of the ILWU and the PMA a comprehensive list of what’s at stake for West Coast ports, as negotiations began last year. Those challenges are still very much in play as the Mediation begins. Open Letter to the ILWU and PMA.

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition’s membership includes companies that represent virtually all agriculture and forest products exported from the United States, as well as imports of these products. These products are grown, raised, processed, packaged and shipped from all regions of the U.S. to markets worldwide, where they typically face competition from similar products sourced elsewhere. The AgTC was founded on the following principle: “There’s nothing that we produce in agriculture and forest products in this country, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. If we cannot deliver affordably and dependably, those foreign customers will find alternative sourcing, and it may never come back to the US suppliers.”US agriculture requires efficient West Coast ports if we are to compete with agriculture producers in Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Chile, etc. in selling to the Asia markets. When US marine terminals are shuttered, and when lack of automation (which is standard at world-class ports outside the US) renders our terminals slower and undependable, then agriculture, which depends upon these ports for access to world markets, suffers great and permanent loss.

For our US exporters and importers, continuing West Coast port disruption and inefficiencies, unless rectified, are already leading to two very bad results – neither in the interests of US exporters, importers or the US economy as a whole. Unfortunately, both have been very much in evidence and accelerating over the past year:

  1. Supply chain managers are forced to divert cargo to East and Gulf US ports and/or to Canadian ports (more detail provided in the Open Letter.) Much of this diversion is now permanent and will not come back to the West Coast ports even after the current dispute is resolved.
  2. Foreign customers are forced to shift their purchases of hay, apples, cotton, lumber, citrus, meat, dairy, almonds, etc., to suppliers of the same products located in other countries.  This too has been occurring with increasing frequency, and are often permanent. For example, when the west coast ports were shut down 12 years ago, Japan candy producers were forced to shift purchases of almonds from California growers, to Turkey, and some of that business still has not, and likely will never come back to the US.

So we hope the  ILWU  is not entering this mediation with the objectives of increasing cost of  port labor (already the highest in the world; according to published contract terms, ILWU workers make an average of $147,000/year, with full medical – no copay, no deductible, no limit, plus pension, etc.), preventing full automation of the terminals, maintaining antiquated practices such as the hiring hall and closing terminals during lunch hours (long discarded in all other industries), and now expanding these costs and inefficiencies to chassis maintenance and repair.

If the ILWU is successful in achieving these objectives during the current mediation, they will be successful in accelerating the diversion of cargo away from the US west coast ports, forcing foreign customers to stop buying from US farmers, growers, packers and food processors, driving cargo away from US west coast ports, and ultimately denying their own children the good jobs at the terminals.

One of the key issues that will be subject to the current mediation relates to jurisdiction over the chassis (these are the trailers on which the ocean cargo containers are placed) maintenance and repair.  This critical function simply cannot be handled in the same way that West Coast port operations have been handled over the years.

Following is a current, quite alarming report about chassis maintenance:

“Our company is one of many exporters trucking products to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on a daily basis.  We have dealt with numerous issues pertaining to the current labor slowdown by the ILWU, costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales and time wasted.  One recent problem we are experiencing is not only appalling, but amounts to outright theft.  We’d like to share our story.

About a year ago, we began making plans to start managing our own chassis program for our trucking operation, as we knew shipping lines would soon be getting out of the chassis business.  For years we had been reliant on equipment that was provided by the shipping lines as part of our service contract.  While the allure of a “free” chassis was appealing, in reality, we were spending approximately $70,000 per year on tire repair of port chassis.  As any trucking operation knows, the tires on port chassis are generally in poor condition, as each operator nurses the tires along just enough to get the container delivered, leaving any lasting problem to the next lucky recipient of that particular chassis.

In order to begin our chassis management program, we experimented with purchasing our own new chassis, as well as entering into a long term leasing agreement with one of the larger port chassis providers, in order to determine which type of equipment best suited our operation.  The equipment we purchased was in excellent condition, as everything was brand new.  In general, the leased port chassis were in good condition, except of course, for the tires.  Over the next few months we began replacing the “junk” recapped port chassis tires with other tires that while were not new, were in much better condition.  There was a great deal of expense incurred to conduct this project, however, we believed it would benefit us in the long run.  Sure enough, once this tire replacement program was complete, we saw a nearly 90% reduction in our tire repair costs.

Two weeks ago, one of our truck drivers was leaving a terminal in Los Angeles after picking up an empty container.  He was stopped at the exit gate by a terminal worker and told that his chassis needs to be inspected for safety purposes.  This particular chassis was one of the leased units we did not own, but have thoroughly maintained.  It also recently completed its annual inspection by the California Highway Patrol, and passed without incident.  However, on this day, it was deemed unsafe by this particular terminal worker and received an “OUT OF SERVICE” tag.  Our driver was instructed to report to the maintenance shop to receive replacement tires before being allowed to leave the terminal.  The maintenance shop, at their own pace, removed our tires, and replaced them with…you guessed it…”junk” recaps-the same type and quality we had spent months, and tens of thousands of dollars to replace.  In effect, they stole our tires from us.  Two days later, that same chassis had two blowouts, from tires that were replaced by the terminal.  So much for safety.

I wish we could report this as an isolated incident, however, in the last two weeks, this situation has repeated itself on numerous occasions.  At this rate, the terminal will have undone in weeks what it took us months to accomplish.  This is just one of many similar costly stories that goes unreported during this contract negotiation period.  Our industry cannot continue to operate this way.  Changed is needed…soon.”

One thought on “AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition

  1. Pingback: Unfortunately: “I told you so.” | daughter of a trucker

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