Retailers rush to import goods, fearing work stoppage at U.S. ports

The longshoremen’s union is negotiating a new contract for dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports. Above, a container ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles in April.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Retailers are rushing goods into the nation’s ports, fearful labor strife may arrive on the docks and affect the busy holiday season, a trade group said.

The powerful longshoremen’s union is negotiating a new contract for its nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports. A breakdown in talks led to a 10-day lockout in 2002, shutting ports along the coast.

Fearful of such disruptions, retailers “aren’t taking any chances,” according the monthly Global Port Tracker report, released by the National Retail Federation. 

Imports to large U.S. container ports will likely hit 1.5 million container units this month, the highest level in at least five years, the report said. Imports started surging this spring, as retailers looked to get goods in before the contract expired July 1. Importers have begun to shift cargo to East Coast ports as well, the group said.


“Retailers have been bringing merchandise in early for months now and will do what it takes to make sure shelves are stocked for their customers regardless of what happens during the negotiations,” Jonathan Gold, the federation’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy said in a statement.

The trend is playing out locally as well.

In May — the latest data available — the Port of Los Angeles took in 7.8% more container units than a year earlier. Imports at the Port of Long Beach rose 2.3%. Together the twin ports handle roughly 40% of the nation’s imports.

A prolonged work stoppage has the potential to carry an economic hit. But current labor talks, at least publicly, have been more amicable than in years past. 


The International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn, which represents employers, have pledged to keep cargo moving until an agreement is reached.

On Monday, the groups agreed to temporarily extend their six-year contract until Friday morning. 

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