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US ports saw record imports this spring, as port workers’ contract expires

“Cargo volume is expected to remain high as we head into the peak shipping season, and it is essential that all ports continue to operate with minimal disruption,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, at the NRF.

US Ports handled 2.4 million (20 foot) containers in May — up 2.7% from last year — setting a new all-time record number of imported containers in a single month since the NRF began tracking imports in 2002 through their Global Port Tracker.

Already strained supply chain at risk in ongoing port labor talks

At the nation’s busiest port in Los Angeles — the port processed 967,900 containers in May, the third best month of all time. And in the first five months of this year, the Port of LA is on track to equal last year’s record-setting pace.

But despite a record number of containers — the number of cargo ships waiting to dock at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach is down from its high of 89 cargo ships drifting offshore in November 2021. As of Friday morning, 26 ships were waiting to dock on shore.

So while congestion has eased — congestion on land is becoming problematic. The number of containers sitting at the Port of Los Angeles has risen in the last 30 days – to an average of 4.3 days — and an average of 7.5 days at the dock’s railyard. The peak recorded dwell time is 11 days.

In October the twin ports of LA and Long Beach announced a “container dwell fee” that has been put on hold through Friday. The plan is to delay fee another week and revisit it then, according to Phillip Sanfield, a spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles.

Since the program was announced — the two ports have seen a combined decline of 27% in cargo on docks, according to the Port of Los Angeles. The fee would charge ocean carriers $100 per container and $100 additionally for each day the container sits at the port.

Adding to the stress, the current contract between International Longshore and Warehouse Union which represents about 22,000 West Coast dock workers and port executives expired on June 30. The union said members will continue to work through the expired contract — as negotiations continue.

“Supply chain challenges will continue throughout the remainder of the year, and it is particularly important that labor and management at West Coast ports remain at the bargaining table and reach an agreement,” said Gold.

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