Less-than-truckload carrier YRC Freight said today it has established a hotline aimed at expediting shipments for businesses whose shipments have been delayed at West Coast ports due to the impasse between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).
The hotline's toll-free number (1-800-325-8747) is being manned around the clock by YRC employees, the Overland Park, Kan.-based company said. Air, dedicated and expedited ground service will be available to deliver urgent shipments within a window of anywhere from one and to 24 hours, YRC said. Weekend ground deliveries are also available as a less-expensive alternative to air freight, YRC said. The objective is for shippers and retailers to get goods from the port to the store shelves in time for the spring retail season, YRC said.
After a nine-month battle, the ILWU and PMA reached a tentative agreement Feb. 20 on a five-year collective-bargaining agreement. The new compact would replace the contract that expired July 1. As the impasse dragged on into the fall and winter, productivity declined and cargo began piling up at the 29 West Coast ports under the ILWU's jurisdiction. Management blamed the backlogs on a deliberate worker slowdown engineered by the union. ILWU said the problem stemmed from management missteps that labor had no involvement in.
The biggest West Cost port complex, consisting of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, will likely take eight to 12 weeks to clear its backlogs. The Port of Oakland was expected to be back to normal in about six weeks, in part because its two main terminals had already been operating at drastically lower capacity and there wasn't as much backlogged freight to clear out.
If comments made by several shippers to Thomas S. Albrecht, transport analyst at investment firm BB&T Capital Markets, are any indication, it might be a busy year for safety-valve carriers like YRC. In a note published yesterday, Albrecht said, "there is a palpable fear" among businesses using the West Coast that port congestion could remain a problem into July. Besides the time needed to shrink the backlogs, the late start of the Chinese New Year—February 19, compared to January 31 in 2014—will trigger an avalanche of freight during March, adding another layer of congestion to an already difficult situation, he said.
In 2014, many U.S. importers concerned about possible labor strife at the ports brought in their cargo during the late spring or early summer to ensure its availability during the holiday season. With port congestion expected to be prevalent into May, few businesses will be able to repeat that strategy, Albrecht said. The likely result will be a very busy third quarter, he said.