Port of Oakland

Shipping volumes at the Port of Oakland plunged 32% in January. That followed a banner year in 2014, when it saw record traffic because of L.A. and Long Beach congestion. Above, containers on a ship at the port. (Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

By Andrew Khouri and Tiffany Hsu
February 18, 2015

The labor dispute that has stalled dozens of massive ships off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach isn’t limited to the nation’s busiest cargo complex.

The high-volume harbors at Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., also have battled severe bottlenecks for months as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and employer group Pacific Maritime Assn. have wrangled over a new contract for 20,000 dockworkers at ports from San Diego to Bellingham, Wash.

Cargo ships anchor offshore Monday at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where cargo movement has slowed down as port employers and representatives of the dockworkers union try to work out a new contract.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez met with both sides Wednesday, the second straight day of direct White House involvement to break the stalemate.

Backlogs at the top ports have worsened as shipping companies have periodically halted the unloading of ships, most recently over the three-day Presidents Day weekend, while accusing the union of staging a work slowdown.

As the dispute drags on, operations at the large ports are taking a hit. Companies, seeking to avoid the delays, are looking elsewhere, including Canada.

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma said Wednesday that cargo traffic fell 13% last month from a year earlier. There were seven container ships at anchor off the port of Seattle and eight stuck off Tacoma, according to representatives of both ports.

For exporters such as Sage Fruit in Yakima, Wash., the delays have caused pain.

Packages of apples, cherries and nectarines have arrived in Asia as much as eight weeks late, said sales manager John Onstad.

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