On Capitol Hill this past Tuesday the Senate excluded Senator Schumer’s proposed container inspection amendment from the National Intelligence Reform Act. Although the trade groups strongly opposed his suggested amendment, Senator Schumer can’t be faulted for his attempt to get something done about this Achilles heel. 4% random scanning leaves much to be desired, as all readily admit, but the reaction from the intermodal industry served to play the spotlight on more than just security concerns. The spontaneous protest of the trade groups is an indication that the element of time has become the primary concern all along the supply chain. In this respect, the Senate’s rejection of Senator Schumer’s proposal can be looked upon as a plus for the industry, but the question of security cannot be sidetracked much longer. Unwelcome and sudden legislation could be imposed without warning, if those in authority felt it to be for the common good. It wouldn’t be the first time emergency legislation was enacted.
On a negative note, the PMA/ILWU program for hiring casual workers at LA/Long Beach is meeting with little success. The hiring and training of these part-timers was thought to be the best way to reduce the backlog of vessels at that complex but, as it turns out, these “casuals” have been aptly named. These temporary workers are paid lower wages and receive no benefits, and because some have full-time employment elsewhere, attendance at the terminal is not a top priority. The naysayers remind us that; “You get what you pay for”, and sadly, the truth in that maxim has never been more obvious. Absenteeism in significant numbers of these casuals has become a painful headache for authorities at the ports and has provoked reactions from importing companies and shipping lines. A number of vessels are known to have been diverted to Oakland, to Seattle, and even directly to East Coast ports. Pat Moffett of New York-based Audiovox states that alternate routes of delivery have already been decided upon by his firm as a result of the lengthy delays at LA/Long Beach. Rather than suffer through these costly delays, Mr. Moffett revealed that Audiovox has opted for all-water deliveries from Asia to the East Coast, and for sea-truck service to the East Coast originating from Seattle instead of from LA/Long Beach. Oakland, said Doug Tilden a little while ago, “ … is betting the lines will hit a brick wall in Southern California”. It’s happening.
James McKenna acknowledged last week that as many as 400,000 applications were received when it was decided to put those casuals on the payrolls at the LA/Long Beach complex. That’s evidence of a sizeable labor pool and a positive indication that full-time longshore gangs could be readily organized, trained, and made available, if a way could be found to utilize them efficiently. As everyone now knows, however, dozens of ships have been forced to sit and wait for servicing because of the many uncertainties within congested terminals. This raises the questions; How can those stalled ships and their cargos be placed in the hands of this anxious labor pool? What is it about these spacious terminals that hinder the efficient flow of goods?