- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The nation is grappling with yet another holiday supply chain roadblock, one that's been at least partially exacerbated by the Biden White House's deference to union labor in addressing widespread shipping delays.
Administration officials have heaped praise on the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union for agreeing to unload freight 24/7 at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that, combined, account for 40% of all U.S. imports and currently have a backlog of roughly 100 ships anchored offshore waiting to unload. Meanwhile, increased demand has driven up incoming shipments by approximately 26% compared to the prior year.
Biden himself thanked ILWU President Willie Adams by name in an Oct. 13 national address for taking a "big first step" toward addressing transportation issues before discussing part of his long-term solution to fixing the American supply chain. He said the passage of his dual infrastructure proposals would specifically strengthen unions' bargaining power in future labor negotiations.
"I want to be clear: This is an across-the-board commitment to going to 24/7," the president stated. "But now, we need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well."
What Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Port Envoy John Porcari, and other senior aides failed to mention in recent days was how, even in filling round-the-clock shifts, the ILWU's port contracts are root causes of the delays.
By design, unions practice "featherbedding" to maximize pay for members, which simultaneously drives up production costs for employers while driving down labor efficiency. In particular, ILWU's holiday pay and stiff opposition to automation helped create the current freight backlogs and make clearing them even more difficult.
Unlike nearly every other first-world economy, the United States's ports do generally not operate on a 24/7 basis, something the administration has stated in recent weeks it hopes to change in the future.
According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, however, the outright cost of ILWU contracts makes that effectively impossible.
"[The ILWU] contract limits the port to just three shifts in a day: two lasting eight hours and another lasting just five hours. All three go from Monday to Friday. These shifts overlap slightly, but they would still only total 21 hours even if they didn't. Keeping the ports open for 24 hours would require the port to pay overtime every single day," CEI research fellow Sean Higgins said. "On top of that, the contract says that any work done on weekends or holidays is automatically time and a half, too. So, even if the port could offer shifts with a five-day workweek that started on, say, Wednesday, it would have to pay those workers the equivalent of six days."
The ILWU's resistance to automation in any form has also landed the ports of L.A. and Long Beach at 328 and 333, respectively, in the World Bank’s Port Performance Index.
"We were totally opposed to fully automated terminals and got the guarantees from our employers that they would not construct them during the life of our new package," then-ILWU President Harold Dagget said when negotiating the current port contract. "Now more than ever, dockworkers from around the world, joined by all maritime workers, must unite to fight this important battle against automation."
Reliance on human crane operators, some of whom, thanks to union negotiators make more than $250,000 per year, rankles truck drivers, another key player in Biden's attempts to unclog supply chain delays.
"In 15 years of doing this job, I’ve never seen them work slower," one of 15 truck drivers who complained to the Washington Examiner about the ILWU operators said. “The crane operators take their time, like three to four hours, to get just one container. You can’t say anything to them, or they will just go [help] someone else.”
"This is all a reflection of the management they have down there. The inmates run the asylum," a second driver added. "The managers are all afraid to say anything because the operators are so powerful they get management fired if they don’t like them."
It's worth noting that the Biden administration has brokered commitments from several key private sector groups beyond ILWU to expand operations in hopes of clearing the port backlogs.
Union Pacific Railroad announced Monday it would scale up operations to meet the port's 24/7 schedule. The White House announced similar commitments from UPS, FedEx, Target, and Walmart the week prior.
Still, Biden, Buttigieg, and other top officials have been under fire for apparently waiting too long to secure the holiday supply chain. It was revealed in early October that Buttigieg had been on paternity leave since August, even as the federal government publicly grappled with the supply chain problems. White House press secretary Jen Psaki had confirmed he returned to work full time on Oct. 18.
"I think the important thing to understand here is that there are multiple issues that are impacting the supply chain, and some of that is that, as the economy has turned back on, more people had expendable income, wages, to buy more goods. So, more people are buying more goods. People have started to also buy more things online than going into stores. And so, that is also impacting the volume, and there's a need for more," she added at her Tuesday briefing when asked by the New York Times why the president didn't "act sooner?"
"We've been working on this since February, and we've seen the uptick perhaps related to the fact that this season, sometimes, people are buying even more goods," she continued. "We've been working on it since February."
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Christian Datoc
Original Location: The supply chain crisis is exacerbated by Biden's union allies