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Retailers Nervous As West Coast Port Labor Talks Near Deadline

A strike would hurt Houston back-to-school sales, and possibly holiday sales too.


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The current labor contract between dockworkers and nearly thirty ports expires on June 30. If they can’t reach an agreement by the deadline, there’s a danger all West Coast ports could shut down. The National Retail Federation says those ports handle more than two-thirds of all U.S. retail container cargo.

The two biggest facilities at risk are the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Robert Sakowitz, CEO of consulting firm Hazak, says cargo ships using those ports are too large to reroute to alternate ports, like Houston, via the Panama Canal and could find themselves stranded at sea.

“It could affect back-to-school [sales] and, if it goes on long enough, it could certainly affect early holiday sales,” Sakowitz says. “What it does, in effect, do is create confusion and uncertainty, and that is never good for a retailer.”

The last major shutdown of West Coast ports occurred in the fall of 2002 and lasted ten days. The resulting backlog took months to clear.