RADAR SCREEN

RADAR SCREEN

A year after the Pacific Maritime Association's lockout of West Coast longshoremen during a contract-bargaining dispute, there's still disagreement over the economic impact of the port shutdown. A PMA-funded study pegs the economic cost of the lockout and its after-effects at $15.6 billion. Consultant John Martin, who compiled the estimate and outlined his findings at last month's American Association of Port Authorities convention, said the costs include losses of some $40,000 per day for container ships that were thrown off schedule for an average of 25 days, extra costs for retailers that had to use more-expensive air transport, and higher inventory-carrying costs. Martin's report, completed in March, says that he conducted 200 interviews with terminal operators, ocean carriers, importers and exporters, but he notes that the effects of the lockout are difficult to isolate from the effects of a generally weak economy. Peter Hall, a former researcher for the union-friendly Institute for Labor and Employment at UCLA, said he thinks the PMA-funded study's estimates are exaggerated. Hall says the study mistakenly assumes that retailers lacked any contingency plans and therefore were helpless to limit their losses.

James McKenna, recently appointed chief operating officer of the Pacific Maritime Association, managed marine terminals on both the East and West coasts for Sea-Land Service and its successor companies CSX Lines and Horizon Lines. He says that while longshore labor on the East Coast has generally been more willing than West Coast dockworkers to accept new technology, East Coast ports "are not miles ahead." Implementing the technology provisions of the new International Longshore and Warehouse Union contract on the West Coast will be an important part of McKenna's job at the PMA. He notes that labor-management relations have evolved differently on the two coasts. On the East and Gulf coasts, the International Longshoremen's Association faces non-ILA competition, so the union tends to work with employees to improve productivity and attract cargo. The ILWU, by contrast, has a virtual monopoly and a more antagonistic attitude toward employers, but McKenna says that attitude is starting to change. "The last negotiations taught us both we are definitely in this together," he said.

There are some positive signs that the technology sector is rebounding, at least in supply-chain management. Stacie Kilgore, a former Forrester Research analyst now with the consulting firm of Chainalytics in Atlanta, reports a surge in business after positive economic reports in June. "It was like somebody turned on a light switch. We started seeing project after project, and it went from smaller projects to larger ones," Kilgore said. "We've watched capital spending take a tenfold jump as far as companies' willingness to spend money. That's a huge sign of growth, in my experience."

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has tentatively scheduled its fourth annual trade symposium for Nov. 19-22. The agency will release the official dates when plans are complete. The trade advisory group on Customs commercial operations, known as COAC, will meet on Nov. 18. The panel was scheduled to meet Sept. 19, but the meeting was canceled by the arrival of Hurricane Isabel.