Sandy and Newtown: A New Perspective on Shipping’s Woes

It’s been a year of mixed fortunes for the transportation and logistics industries. For ocean carriers, the year began bad before turning reasonably good in the third quarter, yielding optimism about the fourth. But with the “mini-strike” in Los Angeles-Long Beach and an ILA strike looming in less than two weeks, the year is closing out on a sour note.

Ironically, the two labor events have both helped and hurt carriers — helped in the likely cargo surge that came in anticipation of a strike and hurt by the ongoing digging out from the effects of the Southern California disruptions, the delays in imports it caused and the subsequent delays in getting empty containers back to Asia.

Somewhat disturbing, there was little media attention outside local and B2B outlets about the Los Angeles-Long Beach disruption. The nation’s largest port largely stops working and no one covers it? I guess the fiscal cliff takes precedence, but that seems to be going nowhere fast. I’m not sure what the result of the Los Angeles-Long Beach unrest will be, but rumors are flying that Beverly Hills is bidding to become the next outsourcing location for the jobs from the waterfront offices.

Discussions between the International Longshoremen’s Association and employers represented by United States Maritime Alliance seem to be an ongoing saga revolving around different priorities. The points raised recently certainly aren’t the same as we heard about at the TPM container shipping conference in March, or even in September. I’m sure all of the issues were on the table and came to the forefront as each “highest priority” was concluded.

Most working Americans look at ILA workers’ compensation and benefits package with amazement — a multiple of the national average and even of first responders in the greater New York area. But it is what it is, and at least the ILA terminals have no problems in reaching 35 to 40 moves an hour. The 24/7 pay a select few are receiving would make even politicians jealous, even those some say receive 28/7 pay.

So here we are in the midst of the holidays, realizing that our little part of the world is close to insignificant. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy and the real work of rebuilding lives, homes, businesses and infrastructure will take years for those affected. Last week’s shootings in Newtown, Conn., are incomprehensible. How many years will it take to recover and at what toll? Those serving our country and having to do multiple tours because such a small portion of the population is involved is an example of a disproportionate few having to sacrifice time, limbs and, the ultimate, their lives. Are they really being compensated or completely taken care of when they return? Stop and make some comparisons.

But we move on in what is a perfectly imperfect world. We have the next couple of weeks to try to take advantage of the holidays, moments of joy, family and friends. The issues of our little portion of this world are important in their own way, especially to those of us involved in the day-to-day of making things move as effectively as we can. May all of us, regardless of our views in any of these issues, have comfort with ourselves and loved ones in these days and beyond.

Gary Ferrulli, a veteran of nearly 40 years in the shipping industry, is director of export carrier relations for non-vessel-operating common carrier Ocean World Lines, a subsidiary of Pacer International. Contact him at mrgtf4811@mindspring.com. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of OWL.   

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