Port Slowdown: Local businesses caught in the middle of ongoing labor dispute

PUYALLUP -- Before they reach the grocery store, some fruits and vegetables pass through the PS & L warehouse in Puyallup. The company, like many others, is feeling the effects of the backups and delays at West Coast ports.

“Come in here on a shipping day and this place will be packed. Well, it isn’t packed so much anymore,” owner John Thomas said.

The ongoing contract negotiations between the longshoremen and shippers are creating congestion at ports, including Seattle and Tacoma. Cargo containers full of food and other products can sit for weeks waiting to be unloaded off of ships.

In some cases, Thomas said, the food goes bad before it ever hits store shelves.

Since November, he estimates his company has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the port slowdown.

“Anybody that still eats food it’s affecting, because it’s not coming in here,” said Thomas.

The Washington Council on International Trade reports 40% of state jobs are tied to international trade. WCIT President Eric Schinfeld says the slowdown affects how quickly goods make it to store shelves.

“You are starting to see more and more that things you depend on to be able to go to the store and buy are not there because we don’t have our ports working effectively right now,” said Schinfeld.

Last weekend, the Pacific Maritime Association temporarily suspended vessel loading and unloading operations.

The PMA, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, contends the longshoremen intentionally started slowing down work in October in an attempt to negotiate a better contract.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union denies PMA’s claim and contends other factors contributed to the port slowdown.