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It's Not Business as Usual at the Ports

Beyond those who are striking or honoring the picket lines, truck drivers and transportation businesses are among the first to feel the financial strain of the strike.

Though the availability of retail goods in many Los Angeles cities amidst the holiday season seems unaffected by the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports labor strike, analysts say that could change if the disruption does not end soon.

In the meantime, the strike means no work and no pay for about 8,000 drivers who count on transporting container cargo for their livelihood, said Fred Johring, president of East Rancho Dominguez-based Golden State Express, which employs 32 drivers.

Johring said all truck drivers are being affected equally whether their rigs are owner-operated or employee-operated. His drivers continue to check in with the company's dispatch to make themselves available should the strike end.

Now in its eighth day, the strike between members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit and their employers has cost the national economy about $1 billion a day, according to media reports.

Jock O'Connell, an independent international trade economist, told KPCC the true cost of the strike will take a long time to measure but he expects it will be much less than the $1 billion a day figure reported. The $1 billion actually represents the dollar amount the L.A. and Long Beach ports handle on a daily basis rather than the cost of the strike.

Regardless, both sides today agreed to federal mediation after the National Retail Federation's asked President Barack Obama to intervene in the labor dispute.

Johring hopes that workers will return to their jobs before an agreement is reached, as typically happens when federal mediators enter the negotiations.

"It would be a godsend," he said.

Though most consumers have not seen effects from the strike, that could change over time, according to the National Retail Federation.

"The shutdown is already having a significant negative economic impact on retailers trying to bring in merchandise for their final push for holiday sales and will soon have an impact on consumers," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a statement.

"The work stoppage not only impacts retailers, but is also affecting their product vendors – many of which are small businesses – and other industries like manufacturers and agricultural exporters that rely on the ports."

As with his drivers, Johring is impacted, but in a different way. He still has to pay his support staff and make payments on his clean air trucks and the insurance on them.

He is also paying to store containers that were in transit and can't be returned to the port. 

"I've been forced to take part of them back," he said. "They're sitting in storage yards at my expense."

Golden State Express handles goods "on the import side," which includes consumer goods such as furniture, products for hardware stores and retailers and partially-fabricated pieces of metal that will be manufactured in the United States.

"If it's not made here, it's what we handle," he said.

Scarlett Hunter, a designer at Furnished in Hermosa Beach, told Patch she isn't feeling any impact from the strike, yet. She said that while most of the vendors she consistently uses do import their products, they have a large supply in stock. However, she said the strike could come into play for large furniture manufacturers, such as if a customer wanted to order a table from a catalog and the manufacturer was unable to provide it.

The Port of Los Angeles, which is the nation's busiest and biggest cargo terminal, and Port of Long Beach have four terminals operating, one, Tra-Pac, in L.A. and three in Long Beach, with seven closed in L.A. and three closed in Long Beach.

Those ports are able to operate because their clerical functions are off site so longshoremen, who are honoring picket lines, are not crossing picket lines to report for work.

L.A. port's largest business is in container shipping, said Phillip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles. He said its top five imports are furniture, auto parts, clothing, electronics and footwear, predominantly from Asia.

Oil tankers and non-container ships have been able to continue to use the port, he said. A Disney cruise ship arrived Sunday morning and left Sunday night as planned.

While a staffer at a South Bay petroleum company with a local office said her customers had not been impacted much by the strike since they could "re-allocate" and use the open terminals, Johring said his fuel supplier commented that the strike is killing him.

"The full realization doesn't happen until well after the strike," said Johring. "And we're going to have severe congestion after the strike."

"I can't put a dollar figure on it but of course it's going to have a cost," he said. "But what can we do? We've purchased new trucks to make the air clean at a higher cost... It's impossible. If I think about it too much, it might depress me."

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