U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez is traveling to California to help engineer an agreement between shipping companies and dockworkers, who have been locked in a bitter dispute that has triggered a partial shutdown of ports along America’s Pacific seaboard. The move, which intensifies pressure to quell labor tensions that stranded tens of thousands of containers on ships over the weekend, was welcomed by many ad specialty suppliers, whose operations have been significantly impacted by the slowdown at the ports.
“Now this is getting attention from the White House – and it should,” said Norm Hullinger, CEO of alphabroder (asi/34063). “A prolonged slowdown could have a major impact for not just our space, but the entire economy.”
Dispatched by President Obama, Perez’s mission is to help break the gridlock between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents ship owners, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers. Washington hopes to stave off a feared full-scale shutdown of 29 West Coast ports that are vital to the American supply chain. “As these ports handle nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and more than 70% of imports from Asia, even the smallest signs of progress are a step in the right direction,” SanMar (asi/84863) wrote in a newsletter published on its website.
While promotional product suppliers welcome avoiding a work stoppage, the importing slowdown has already disrupted their supply chains. ETS Express (asi/51197), for example, has shipments in port, but is unable to access them. “The slowdown has hindered our ability to bring in critical merchandise to replenish our inventory levels or receive specific product needed to meet key event dates for our customers and their clients,” said Brandon Bell, vice president of sales at ETS Express. “It has become increasingly more difficult to forecast our inventory needs for the future or when specific items will arrive at our facility.”
ETS Express is far from the only supplier dealing with such difficulties. “The West Coast ports situation has been impacting our daily business seriously,” said Sharon Luo, products manager at Ariel Premium Supply (asi/36730). “Containers are delayed – some of them for up to almost three weeks now. Because of that, we have had customers cancel their orders with us, while others have had to reschedule their event dates.”
Elsewhere, iClick’s (asi/62124) USB business has been largely unaffected because it air-ships these tech items, but other sea-shipped products the Seattle-based supplier offers are tied up in the port logjam. “We have a lot of product that is currently sitting on ships in the harbor, but has not been unloaded,” said Jeff Hall, president of iClick. “Some have been there for weeks.”