Operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach may slow if automatic spending cuts go into effect Friday, port officials said, as fewer U.S. customs officers would delay the flow of international cargo through the massive sea ports.
Officials of the two ports, which handle 40% of cargo that enters the U.S., warn that so-called sequestration would deal a blow to the Southern California economy as goods headed to market are delayed.
How significant the possible disruption would be remains to be seen as it's unclear how automatic budget cuts would be implemented by the U.S. Coast Guard, which provides security and inspects cargo vessels at the ports, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which helps seize counterfeit merchandise among other responsibilities.
Still, port officials said they worry that cargo delays would add a few days of total travel time if federal agencies are forced to furlough workers.
"We're very, very concerned," said Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach.
A spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles said Tuesday that port officials there are still unsure how operations will be impacted and have been in a "wait-and-see mode."
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security did not return a message left Tuesday seeking comment on how the agency would implement cuts.
The threat of sequestration is the latest in a string of operational calamities that the ports have seen.
Late last year, an eight-day strike by a small clerical workers' union effectively shut down the ports. Members of the 800-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit accused their employers of outsourcing jobs, a charge the Harbor Employers Assn., which represents shipping companies, denied.
The strike ended Dec. 4, shortly before federal mediators were set to intervene.
Earlier this month, however, bargaining units for the union rejected the agreement. The union later ratified the agreement Feb. 21.