A Shared Crisis

Any number of authorities can be cited who are waving red flags at the “rolling sweatshop”issue. Paul Heylman, an attorney specializing in waterfront labor problems, stated that; “The current economic model with drivers is probably not sustainable. Truckers are making practically nothing compared to the ILA and the ILWU”. Instead of appeasement in any form, however, these truckers are now faced with longer turnaround times, chassis shortages, and sections of terminals that are closed off to traffic without prior announcement. Because of these costly delays disgusted drivers are quitting and not being replaced. John Drewes of Devine Intermodal recently said; “This is the first time since I’ve been in trucking that I don’t see new drivers coming into the industry”. This may be the onset of that “national crisis” Mr. Belzer was visualizing.

Ron Carver as well as Mr. Belzer were correct when they cautioned against conditions that can be characterized as “sweatshops”. But what produces the longer turnaround times, the chassis shortages, and the unexpected traffic tie-ups within the terminals? The drivers themselves are not responsible for these difficulties but they’re the ones that seem to be holding the bag. The actual causes are known and can be described by almost anyone engaged in terminal operations, so there’s no point in dwelling upon them in this column. We know for sure that water transport is highly efficient, though; so efficient, in fact, that on any given day anywhere from 60 to 80 ships can be seen treading water while they wait to berth at the LA/LB complex. That particular link in the delivery chain is quite sturdy and will become even stronger in the coming years.

Heed what Chuck Raymond, CEO of Horizon Lines LLC, has to say in this regard. He issued this warning in the form of a rhetorical question recently; “By 2020, every major container port in the United States is projected to at least double the volume of cargo it will handle, with selected ports tripling or quadrupling in volume. In fact, there are many warning signs that point to serious shortfalls in our intermodal freight capacity, and that future cargo volumes may very well overwhelm the nation’s infrastructure. This impending freight capacity crunch, therefore, leads us to one overriding policy question – what will happen if plans are not made today for tomorrow’s freight realities?”

What Mr. Raymond is asking you to consider is this. What kind of an effect will this steady increase in the number of container ships and containers have in the coming years upon the turnaround times, the chassis shortages and the traffic obstacles that are almost unmanageable in today’s container ports? He has a dog in this fight, he is acutely aware of the other problems in the supply chain, and he fully expects to hear some brainstorming from other concerned officials. Band aids won’t do at this late date. This illness could be terminal and requires the kind of treatment Kurt Nagle has suggested. Kurt has reminded us that the AAPA’s SHARE initiative (Seaports of the Hemisphere Allied in Relationships for Excellence), “…promotes both the principle and the process of banding together and pooling resources for greater muscle, which will serve to the greatest benefit for each of us individually and the entire industry collectively”.

The commentaries appearing on this website are being offered with exactly that purpose in mind.