Speed Reads

Supply Chain Gang

The Port of Los Angeles is making 'great progress' in clearing its shipping cargo backlog, director says

Americans are buying more things — retail sales rose a higher-than-expected 1.7 percent in October, with consumers spending more even factoring in inflation, the Commerce Department said Tuesday — and some of America's largest retailers have found ways to work around the supply chain kinks that have gummed up global trade. Walmart and Home Depot, both of which reported higher-than-predicted quarterly earnings on Tuesday, and Target have all chartered their own cargo ships and taken other steps to sidestep the congestion at U.S. ports.

One of the highest-profile congested ports, Los Angeles, has cleared some of its backlog in the past few weeks, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said Tuesday in an online forum with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "There's much more work to be done on this front but great progress by our dock workers, shipping lines, truckers, marine terminal operators, and railroad partners," Seroka said.

The port has reduced all import containers on its docks by 25 percent since Oct. 24, and reduced the amount of cargo sitting at least nine days by 29 percent, Seroka said. The port has also ramped up the removal of empty containers littering the docks, using sweeper ships to remove the empties and help get them back on ships returning to Asia. There are now 84 container ships waiting offshore to unload at the Ports of Los Angeles and its neighboring Port of Long Beach, down from recent 100-plus ships waiting to dock still but much higher than normal.

The Port of Los Angeles is open about 19 hours a day, still short of President Biden's push for 24/7 operation, Seroka said, and "we've had very few takers to date" for the night shifts. Warehouses "traditionally work during the day and they found it difficult to bring in workers during this time," he said, and an inadequate number of truck drivers can only work 11 hours a day under federal rules.

"It's an effort to try to get this entire orchestra of supply chain players to get on the same calendar," Seroka said. Buttigieg said clearing the backlog is "not flipping the switch," and the ports are struggling with both "unprecedented consumer demand," the global pandemic, and "decades of under-investment in our supply chain infrastructure." The infrastructure bill Biden just signed steers $17 billion to U.S. ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach.