A work slowdown at the Pacific Northwest’s two largest ports Wednesday began affecting businesses as distant as Chicago as major port terminals stopped accepting export cargoes and cut the pace of imports by half.
Fruit growers in Eastern Washington, retailers and exporters in the Midwest were among those who felt the effects Wednesday of the labor dispute between union longshore workers and their employers at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle.
That slowdown by the International Longshore Workers Union was delaying the departure of ships at terminals in Seattle and Tacoma and was on the verge of causing shipping lines to divert their vessels to other ports.
Not only could the situation impact the competitiveness of our ports, it is affecting Washington growers:
That inability to move those containers is expensive to shippers. One major Eastern Washington apple grower reported that he had 43 containers of apples destined for export turned away at the marine terminal gates in the Puget Sound this week. That grower said storing those containers awaiting access to the terminals is costing him hundreds of dollars a day.
That same grower, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, told him that a shipment of 140 containers of apples scheduled for this week was postponed a week by the shipping line.
“This slowdown couldn’t have come at a worse time,” said Fryhover. The Washington apple industry, which has harvested a record crop this year of more than 140 million boxes, is depending on foreign markets to absorb the increased production.
The Packer has more:
“One of our shippers exporting potatoes through Tacoma had been shipping 50 containers a week,” Matt Harris, director of governmental affairs at the Washington State Potato Commission, said Nov. 5. “They thought maybe three to five would still go, but then they couldn’t do even that. The stoppages and slowdowns are just too much.” . . .
“We’re looking at a very large apple crop,” [Jon] DeVaney [of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association] said. “Our shippers wanted to increase exports this year. Anything that interrupts our ability to keep fruit moving is a serious problem.” . . .
“We’ve communicated with our federal friends in Washington, D.C.,” Harris said. “We understand this is a negotiation, but to slow things down to where commerce stops and damages our ability to deliver a high-quality product to a consumer overseas, we can’t live by this. It really hurts.”
When our products can’t get to market — whether because of issues at the ports or on the way to them — it is a serious problem for our trade-dependent economy.