Los Angeles County
is at the epicenter of the current COVID surge. That county’s Los Angeles/Long
Beach port complex is simultaneously at the epicenter of America’s import
surge. These two spikes are now converging as hundreds of California
dockworkers catch COVID.
“If the catastrophic infection rates continue,
there may be a need to close the San Pedro Bay Port Complex to protect the
health and safety of the workforce,” executives of the ILWU dockworkers union
warned in a letter Monday to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which
Committeeman Frank Ponce De Leon told American Shipper on Thursday, “Longshore
workers have been moving cargo nonstop during the pandemic and want to continue
to do so. But the skyrocketing rate of infections in Southern California is
real and taking its toll.
“We are coming
close to surpassing the number of infections that we had experienced in the
last eight months of 2020 in just the first two months of 2021,” said De Leon.
Weighing chance of terminal shutdowns
Asked about the
chance of California terminal shutdowns due to COVID, Port of Long Beach Deputy
Executive Director Noel Hacegaba told American Shipper, “We will continue to
work around the clock to avoid that scenario.”
officials and port stakeholders vehemently urge that dockworkers get a higher
vaccine prioritization level
COVID outbreak at top import gateway
The ILWU reported
that as of Sunday, a total of 694 union members had tested positive for COVID.
Of those, 364 worked in Los Angeles and 330 in Long Beach. A total of 1,080
ILWU members were exposed to people with COVID.
Infection underreporting alleged
The ILWU alleged
that terminal operators have not been reporting COVID cases to the Los Angeles
County Department of Health to the extent required for workplaces with three or
more cases within 14 days.
“We believe the vast majority of terminal
operators are failing to report [cases] at all,” argued the ILWU.
The ILWU stressed
that if terminal operators continue to fail to report confirmed COVID cases
among “all ILWU labor, management, vendors, all other workers and anyone who
enters the terminal,” the union “will have no other alternative than to file
complaints with all relevant agencies.”
COVID curbing port throughput
Even if there are
no terminal shutdowns ahead, COVID is already affecting trade flows through
California ports. As previously reported by American Shipper, San Pedro Bay is
a veritable parking lot of container ships waiting for berths.
recent spot labor shortages were due to too much import volume or too few
workers due to COVID, Sanfield replied, “Both. It’s a combination of a lot of
things. Certainly, the unprecedented import surge we’ve seen for months now is
at the top of the list. Then you layer less dockworkers than we normally have
on top of that.”