A potential strike at the West Coast ports appeared imminent on July 1st but was averted, for now. The West Coast ILWU, International Longshore, and Warehouse Union had a contract up for renewal (July 1, 2022). They argued that since the Steamship lines have raised their rates significantly, and the port operators have made exceptional profits, that they should also share in the profits. Not unreasonable. Fortunately, as of this writing, it looks like an agreement was reached.
But what if the strike had happened? Below is a likely scenario….
First, the west coast would back up until long after the strike. Second, the east coast would get overloaded, very quickly, either due to sympathy work slowdowns or significantly increased workloads that exceed the east coasts port’s ability to unload and process containers. It would be a mess. As shippers re-route or diverted their shipments to the East Coast to compensate for the strike, the East Coast logistics networks would suffer. Instead of traffic coming from the west to east, those lanes would shut down. The capacity in the west would have less freight flowing back to the east coast so there would be a general lack of trucks to handle long haul freight, in either direction. The trucking network would be negatively impacted and take a long time to sort out. Intermodal movements would suffer as well. This would impact drayage carriers, produce container shortages and result in higher rates.
To summarize, everybody would suffer if the strike had happened, whether or not you ship internationally. The logistics network would be out of balance, so costs would rise, service levels would drop, and every shipper would be miserable. Remember that it’s a network, with lots of moving pieces. When these pieces don’t move like they’ve been designed to, the network starts to fail. That failure is painful to everyone.
If the Federal Government had stepped in it would have tried to avert the strike. If that happened, then there would still be consequences. The West Coast ILWU could show their ire through work stoppages, slowdowns, sick calls, and any number of methods to slow the flow and impact as many people as possible to demonstrate their worth and power.
What should you do as a shipper to prepare? Here are 3 recommendations to try and protect your margins and maintain your logistics costs at a reasonable/workable level:
- Try partnering with a 3PL to lock in rates and services. 3PL’s have multiple contracts with carriers and these can help you manage your costs and protect your service. If you’re a medium to small sized shipper, this type of relationship can really help you.
- Pool your resources. Try to concentrate your business into larger pools of freight and sign annual contracts to lock in rates for at least a year. Don’t play the spot markets. You’ll lose in the long run.
- Have a plan. Determine what you will do if a strike happens, and you still have trouble shipping to customers. Be transparent with your customers. Make sure that they know what you’re experiencing, what you’re doing about it, and set reasonable expectations with those customers so they can plan accordingly. Make sure you re-visit your plan periodically and adjust it as the picture changes.
It’s not a good time right now for the logistics community. There are several potentially bad environmental factors hitting all at the same time. However, if you plan, partner with a 3PL (a good one) and pool your resources, you stand a much better chance of maintaining your relative competitive position in the marketplace.
Fortunately, a west coast port strike was averted. But risks still exist in the supply chain. The government can’t afford to let that happen, neither can the steamship lines or the port operators. A strike was either delayed or pushed off. However, can you afford to sit back and do nothing? It would be wise to discuss and plan for potential disruptions in your supply chain. Hopefully, you’ve weathered the Pandemic related supply chain woes and now this next potential disruption is no longer imminent. At the very least, if you are a small to mid-sized firm, try exploring the possibility of partnering with a 3PL to can help you navigate these tricky logistical waters. There isn’t any downside risk to looking into a 3PL partnership, and there’s a lot of help to be had by doing so.
Riverside Logistics would be happy to help you plan your logistics network, bulletproof your carrier base, and keep you competitive in the marketplace by providing cost effective solutions to your warehousing and transportation needs. After living through the pandemic and the effect it has had on your supply chain, you understand how fragile the network is and how impactful changes to it can be. Don’t be a victim of your supply chain without at least looking into a 3PL relationship. We are here to help and would be very willing to consult with you on potential opportunities to shore-up your network.
Riverside Logistics can be reached at 804-474-7000 Option 4. Ask for a LMC consultant and get started on being proactive towards your supply chain.