Port labor dispute discussed in Senate hearing

Farm Forum

On Feb. 10, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security held a hearing on U.S. ports titled “Keeping Goods Moving.” The hearing focused on the importance of a reliable and efficient supply chain and was held in the midst of a labor dispute between the shipping companies and port workers.

The dispute shut down 29 West Coast ports over the previous weekend and has caused significant delays in the transport of goods.

The Asian market is a huge source of income for the U.S. beef industry. In 2014 Hong Kong, Japan and Korea together purchased over $3 billion worth of beef. Norman Bessac, vice-president of International Sales for Cargill, testified in the hearing that this dispute is threatening our continued access to this market.

“Recently, the industry has been experiencing delays of 2-3 weeks on chilled product as ships and product have backed up in the West Coast port,” said Bessac, in a statement submitted to the committee. “With this delay, our Asian customers cannot count on dependable supply of US Beef and pork, so they have started to cancel orders and are looking to suppliers in Chile, Australia, and the European Union to meet their needs.”

In addition to Bessac, the Committee called on three other witnesses: Katie Farmer, vice president for Consumer Products for BNSF, Dr. Walter Kemmsies, chief economist for Moffat & Nicholo, and John Greuling, a board member for the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors.

Farmer said the BNSF, an expansive railway company, said their biggest concern in the near future is the growing congestion. In 2014, a third of the US economy was tied to international trade and while there are a number of issues influencing the growing congestion, the port labor disputes have caused an unprecedented decline in productivity – as much as 50 percent.

Including NCBA, 167 groups that depend on efficient and timely transportation have recently signed on to a letter urging the negotiators to resolve the issue. During similar negotiations in 2002, employers staged a 10-day lockout that by some estimates costs upwards of $1 billion.

Without a timely agreement, we will continue to face slow work conditions that back up ships and trucks, keeping perishable items in transit much longer than expected.