Watch West Coast Shipping Friday

This video covers the schedules, contracts, issues, and probability of a Rail Strike in the USA; along with the possibility of a West Coast Port strike at the same time.

To say either of these could be a huge mess is an understatement. To have both together would be catastrophic. I suspect the Feds will issue some kind of “back to work cooling off” order, but at best that kicks the can down the road a few weeks. I think it would be very hard for them to make it 2 months and past the election, but I think they will try.

In any case, the issues will not go away and, at best, will return just in time for Christmas…

Main points:

Dock workers are upset about automation and are without a contract now, so have already pushed things out a long ways. Rail unions are very upset about trains growing from 1/2 mile long to 2 miles (and with good reason as they become ever more uncontrollable with that length) while crews have reduced from 4 to 2 (oh, and crew schedules are 100% unpredictable and set at whim of management, leading to a zero home life situation…)

My best guess is that rail will strike. Even if they don’t, shippers are reducing shipments right now to avoid their products being stuck on a siding during a strike. Similarly, shippers have shifted to east coast and gulf cost ports for the same reason. So we have disruption already starting even without a present strike.

Also note that one offer was a 25% wage increase over a few years. Shipping costs are going to skyrocket in any case…

Be prepared for shipping disruption, stock up before Friday. Bulk shipping will be hardest hit (as it doesn’t have much alternative to bulk ships and bulk trains) so I don’t expect an immediate outage of things like TP & bread; but eventually lack of bulk wheat shipping will hit the grain mills… Just sayin’ that the duration of any strike will matter. The longer it goes the worse things will get.

Any company that depends on bulk shipping / rail / Western Ports will take a hit in the short run, and then face significant increase in costs longer term. Invest accordingly…

Commuters, food producers, refineries and others could all be affected if there is a nationwide rail strike at the end of this week.

Members of one union rejected a tentative agreement that their leaders had negotiated with the biggest freight railroads, and three other unions were still at the bargaining table on Wednesday. Two other rail unions. unions ratified deals.

Yes, it’s “socialists”, but they are often in touch with labor unions…

Tensions mount at West Coast ports as dockworkers enter third month without contract
Rafael Azul
30 August 2022

Thursday will mark the beginning of the third month since the expiration of the contract for 22,000 West Coast dockworkers. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) bureaucracy has kept workers on the job without a contract, in collusion with both the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the Biden administration, which is determined to avoid disruptions in the supply chain at all costs. However, there are growing signs that contract talks, which have taken place under conditions of near-total secrecy, have stalled, and frustration is mounting among dockworkers.

Contract negotiations at West Coast ports have a history of slowdowns, strikes and lockouts, and government intervention. In 2002, negotiations deteriorated to the point where the PMA carried out a 10-day lockout that prompted the George W. Bush administration to intervene. In 2014 and 2015, the Obama administration also got involved to end a series of slowdowns and suppress local strikes.

Ideal time to “slow down” or walk out? When rail is on strike and you can claim you are just not crossing their picket lines…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Economics - Trading - and Money, Emergency Preparation and Risks, News Related, World Economics. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Watch West Coast Shipping Friday

  1. John Hultquist says:

    RR seem to have settled for now. From the WSJ:
    “The deal, which is retroactive to 2019, includes a 14.1% wage increase upon ratification. Workers would then get a 4% raise in July 2023 and 4.5% increase in July 2024, as well as five annual $1,000 lump sum payments. There are no changes to health insurance copays or deductibles in the new deal.”
    None of this is good for us retired folks, but workers have to pay to live now AND save to live for 30 years after their work years are over. They can’t do that for $15/hr. Good for them — bad for me.

    But back to automation:
    Large grocery stores and such are the places where folks can see this happening. Fast-food places are also converting to “kiosks” (odd word choice there) and self-checkout. RFID (radio-frequency identification) is already a thing — expect more. When you take an item from the shelf and put it in a cart, your bill is updated.
    Do you remember when the grape pickers went on strike? Now most grapes are picked by machines. Coming are machines that recognize ripe fruit and can pick strawberries, apples, or others without human hands touching the fruit.
    Featherbedding is another term (practice) that got RR and the auto manufactures into trouble.

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    Saw a news report that it was a “tentative” deal and that the details were not known.

    Good if true, but still a couple of hurdles.

    1) It doesn’t address the major issues of the rail workers: Quality of life and long trains.

    2) Still has to be voted on by them.

    So we wait a day or two to celebrate…

  3. H.R. says:

    Hah! Speaking of long trains…

    When we were kids, dad had us counting the number of railcars that made up the train. Kids being highly distractable, we were to keep quiet until the train passed and then give our count. Dad’s count was the official tally, of course. When we were younger, the counts would vary some. As we got older, our counts agreed more.

    Anyhow, it was unusual to get over 100 cars back in the ’60s.

    Yesterday was a demonstration of how fast our area is growing (I’ve bitched about that before) and how much longer trains are nowadays. The trains go by pretty fast as we are far enough from the rail yards that the trains are still going 50 to 60 mph. So the extra length only adds a couple of minutes or so to the wait.

    I still count cars for the fun of it, and now I almost always get to 125 cars, and I’ve counted as much as 140 cars. Trains are getting noticeably longer. But there’s no passenger rail on the lines I cross, so there are no slow crossings as a freight train slowly gains speed coming out of a siding after letting a passenger train go by.

    For about the first 18 years (out of 22) that we have lived here, traffic would back up at the tracks as little as 1 or 2 autos each way and rarely more than a dozen cars were held up.

    Yesterday, the traffic was backed up over a mile in each direction. I’m pretty sure the train passing through was normal length (I was over 1/2 mile away from the crossing) but traffic has become ridiculous in the past 2-3 years.

    I’ll be looking to see if rail traffic is curtailed from the strikes. I will be able to tell if I can go a few weeks without that crossing backing up so often.

  4. cdquarles says:

    What I have noticed is that rail traffic locally is not as high as it was during the Trump administration. There is a main rail line nearby (old Central of Georgia) with the associated sidings (old textile mill, new ice cream facility, old paper mill nearby, really old marble quarry nearby, where that one is on a different rail line spur. Those lines cross in town, near where an old mortar plant was. We used to joke during the civil defense drills that our town was one of the nuke target points, so the drills wouldn’t make any difference should a nuke war start and the town was a target. This week, the traffic is down even more. We shall see.

    Like H.R., as a child counting the cars when a freight train passed through was a welcome diversion when sitting at the crossing. Typical through train had about 100 cars. I’ve not bothered recently. Passenger trains stopped 60 years ago. It was uneconomical.

    I also count truck traffic. Seeing lots of capital goods carrying trucks means that the economy is on an upswing. Seeing fewer trucks carrying any kind of goods means the economy is on a downswing. Our local government is more sane than most, so business conditions, including unemployment, have been good. Naturally, that won’t last given the actions of the less sane governments.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like “No Deal” at this time:

    I’ve added about $500 to my “prep” stores (which were not that large due to the whole moving thing…) and can likely “cruise” through about 4 months at this point.

    I’ve also got all vehicles tanks full (though one still has no A/C and one is “in the shop” (the ML) so likely only about 900 miles of fuel “on board” in usable vehicles) so enough if things get rough.

    The Eastern Seaboard (Maine to about the Carolinas) have a significant fuel shortage due to the USA shipping LNG and Diesel to the EU to try to avoid their collapse (like 60-ish % short of normal stocks of NG and Diesel…) Folks in the MidWest, and West are likely not in this problem group as they can’t ship to the EU… but just realize that this winter for those in the NE to East Coast above Georgia are likely going to have a fuel shortage from our trying to prevent the EU / UK from collapsing due to the Russia Sanctions killing their fuel supply.

    Be safe out there, but remember “Luck favors the well prepared”…

  6. H.R. says:

    @cdq – Yup. Rail traffic was heavy during the Trump years. Fortunately, the big land rush to our area didn’t really kick in until about late 2019-ish.

    So you grew up counting cars, too? Did you have siblings who also counted and sometimes got different numbers? I was 7 or 8 before my older brothers let me in on the trick. Pick a phone pole and only count a car when it reached the pole. Never try to try to count back towards the end of the train.

    By the time the youngest, my sis, was about 8, all our counts matched up, but we’d still all count the cars. Dad too. Lifelong habit with him.

  7. David A says:

    Some local construction guys I know say they are finally seeing signs of a slow down. Lumber prices are still dropping.

  8. H.R. says:

    @Ossqss – The container count at LA made me wonder if shippers are avoiding the port.

    I read about that yesterday on some other site and it mentioned that other ports are busy, busy, busy.

    A week ago or so, the CEO or the spokesperson for Maersk, the big kahuna in container shipping, said their traffic was down.

    So I figure that yes, people are buying less discretionary goods due to spending more on gasoline, utilities, and food. Shipping should be down. But at LA, the logistics people have planned alternate ports because LA was slow walking the loading and unloading and then you can’t get trucks in California to get the goods out of the State.

    A twofer is my take.

  9. H.R. says:

    Hey, does anyone remember how to estimate the speed of a train by how fast a railcar moves past a certain point? Dad taught us a fairly accurate rule of thumb, but I’ve forgotten it. Count ‘Mississippis’ as 5 or 10 cars go by and then…? I forget.

    It’s pretty simple; number of feet (cars) going past the fixed point in number of seconds (thousand one, thousand two, or one Mississippi, two Mississippis, or one Fifth Avenue, two Fifth Avenues, whatever you were taught for counting seconds).

    Also, it used to be coal hoppers, grain hoppers, boxcars, tankers, and flatbeds, all standard, and that was about it. The key was the car count that made it easy for even kids to calculate the speed in their head.

    Now there are these extra-long container flatbeds, mesh enclosed car carriers and longer boxcars so I don’t know if there’s a newer, better rule of thumb for estimating train speed.

    Did anyone else learn that and can you remember how it’s done? It’s gonna be a long time before I get the time to look up all the car lengths and figure it out for myself.

    P.S. The rule of thumb for lightning strikes is 5 seconds from seeing the flash to hearing the crash equals 1 mile away. (5,280 ft/1,125 fps = 4.693 seconds or roughly 5 ‘Mississippis’)

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    Also note that Amazon and Walmart both set up their own ships & containers to carry their stuff to ports other than LA / Long Beach like Houston. Somewhat smaller ships (leased I think) and smaller containers that could be unloaded in more places (as I recall it.. there was something about container length…)

    They saw the problem coming long time ahead of the port congestion and prepared.

  11. cdquarles says:

    @H.R., yes, when my younger sister got old enough and had learned how to count, she’d participate in that little game. I don’t recall that her counts were different from mine.

    As far as the lightning flash to hearing the thunder, we’d round it down to 4. :p

    Yes, Amazon and Walmart (and likely others) have internal shipping branches. Local Walmart was advertising trucker openings not that long ago.

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