Sluggish ports giving some Oregon businesses problems fits; exports, imports both slow

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

Willamette Valley businesses that rely on overseas shipments say they are frustrated by the delays that have come with bargaining over a labor contract at West Coast ports, and some say the effects have hit them coming and going.

Complaints are coming from managers responsible for containers filled with products such as compressed straw destined for Japan and South Korea, grass seed headed to sites throughout Europe and China and frozen fruits and vegetables coming into Oregon, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported.

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Port managers say unionized workers have deliberately slowed traffic through the West Coast ports, where they have been working without a contract since July. Dockworkers say the port managers have failed to manage the supply chain efficiently.

During the weekend, employers hired only a limited number of workers. But they reopened fully on Monday as contract talks were scheduled to resume.

Jeff Tobin of Mazama Brewing in Corvallis said kegs from the Netherlands, imported through Los Angeles, have been late, meaning later shipping dates.

Beer exports are taking longer, Tobin said. A shipment of his company's Belgian ale to Japan was supposed to leave Tacoma on Dec. 29 for a trip that takes 10 to 12 days, he said.

"It got there on Jan. 29," he said. "Beer can't be sold until it arrives, and they aren't going to order more beer until they use their current shipment. We won't recover the loss. We're getting hit on both sides."

In Tangent, south of Albany, trucking company owner Stan Boshart estimated that it's costing him at least $1,500 per day in overtime for office employees to redo paperwork and for truck drivers to sit in their vehicles for hours waiting for machine operators to pull containers off trailers.

Normally, the company has to change a shipping order once a week, said Boshart's daughter, Shelly Boshart Davis, vice president in charge of international sales and marketing.

"Now, it's 15 or 20 per day," she said, standing in front of a white board on which information about nearly a dozen customers and their orders were written. "Nearly every booking has to be changed at some point, and the paperwork has to be perfect for this type of thing."

Mary Harer of Columbia Seeds, which exports its products at this time of year, said that if the delays continue, "our customers will likely go to other suppliers."

"There's nothing we grow in Oregon that can't be produced elsewhere. Right now, the ports are making us look like unreliable suppliers," Harer said.


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald,