Your Holiday Presents Are Floating Off the Coast of L.A.

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Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 11:55 PM

  • Port of Los Angeles / Facebook
Updated at the bottom: It's over, says the mayor. First posted at 9:02 a.m. Tuesday.

The Los Angeles port strike has gone largely unnoticed by much of L.A, largely because it hasn't affected you much.

But think about this: On the eighth day of the strike, with cargo ships waiting outside the largest ports in the United States, your holiday presents could be sitting out on the Pacific.

Yeah, all that stuff we get from China -- much of it comes through the ports ...

... of L.A. and Long Beach.

You gotta wonder if this strike is going to squeeze Christmas and result in holiday gift shortages right when consumer spending seems to be rebounding.

The horror.

So what's this thing about?

click to enlarge ILWU
  • ILWU

The 800-member clerical workers unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 is unhappy about contract language that it says will allow for offshore outsourcing of its jobs.

"They're outsourcing family-wage jobs to Texas, Taiwan and beyond," says the ILWU.

The ILWU strike means that 10,000 longshoreman and other dock workers are refusing to cross picket lines, shutting down most of the ports' terminals.

The union wants the language changed.

Critics, however, have argued some if not much of the clerical work in question could be automated.

The Los Angeles / Long Beach Harbor Employers Association says the dispute is about "'featherbedding' demands -- the requirements that employers call in temporary workers and hire new employees even if there is no work for those individuals to perform."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants both sides to accept mediation.

The ports are losing $1 billion a day in trade. Reuters reports that ships are taking the goods to the Bay Area and even south to Mexico.

Those are your presents.

[Update at 11:55 p.m.]: After getting the sides to accept federal mediation, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced tonight that it's over (your gifts are on their way):

I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between labor and management that will bring to an end the eight-day strike that has cost our local economy billions of dollars.

I would like to thank both the employers and the union for returning to the bargaining table in earnest beginning last night and working feverishly to reach a new deal. The result is a contract amenable to both sides and the return to work during this holiday season for thousands of men and women who are vital to keeping our port running around the clock.

[Added]: To address our lovely critics and haters, we doublechecked our notion that cheap Chinese goods, including clothing and toys, are probably sitting offshore instead of getting stocked on store shelves for the holidays.

The Los Angeles Times' Nov. 30 story on the port strikes noted that they could affect the L.A.-centric, China-dependent "fast-fashion" industry "that relies on frequent clothing imports to keep store offerings fresh."

Paul Bingham, an economist with infrastructure consulting firm CDM Smith, told the paper: "Retailers will have stock outages, lost sales for products not delivered."

When is that, next month? In spring?

According to USA Today, in a story titled, "West Coast port strike may hit holiday sales," the strike could have affected "merchandise coming in just before Christmas," an expert told the paper.

Indeed, while big-ticket items probably were on shelves, L.A. has a constant flow of low-end goods that find their way to Santee Alley and other Main Street retailers. Forty percent of cargo traffic goes through the ports of L.A. and Long Beach. Must be some holiday gifts on those ships.

Bloomberg Businessweek stated before tonight's agreement:

California ports handling about a third of U.S. container shipments were largely closed because of a strike, stranding vessels carrying last-minute cargos for the holiday-shopping season.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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