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Port of LA’s Seroka: Supply Chain Crisis Shows Need for Better Paid Jobs

Gene Seroka, executive director, Port of Los Angeles says supply chain dislocations impacting ports, warehouse and trucking operations will be reduced with better jobs including better pay and benefits for employees.

In an interview with AJOT on March 22nd, Seroka said:

“I subscribe to the fact that we don’t have a shortage of truck drivers, we’ve got a shortage of good jobs. The State of California has issued more than 661,000 commercial trucking licenses and we’re still struggling to have enough folks … Some have left for completely different industries. Others have gone into the parcel service working for the post office or other private sector entities. We have got to find a way to attract and recruit and retain workers in both warehousing and trucking. They’ll have to be better paid and there will be benefits associated with this.”

Seroka suggested that transportation and cargo-handling jobs need to be permanent employee jobs not transactional: “These jobs can’t be transactional or seasonal jobs to the extent that people want to make careers in these segments. We’re going to need to recruit and train the talent we’re going to need in the years to come.”

Seroka said he thought “we probably need to have 3,000 to 5,000 thousand more drayage (harbor) truckers here in the ports of Southern California.”

Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles
Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles

Watch the full interview

In other news Seroka noted:

China Port Shutdowns

He expects a quick rebound from any disruptions caused by COVID shutdowns of Chinese ports: “We’ll probably see a brief lull due to COVID spikes and eventual shutdowns due to the zero-COVID policy in China and that will be matched by a pretty quick rebound … you can relocate ships to different terminals and different ports, especially in South China. What we saw last year with the terminal closure in Ningbo, cargo was moved to other (ports). In some cases, trucked three and a half hours away to Yongshan deep-sea port in Shanghai. But what we can’t move are factories. And that’s what we are watching most closely. If there seems to be a shuttering of factories across this spread of the next wave of COVID. I don’t think there is any cause for alarm. I think they are resilient and that we will see continual movement of cargo throughout the supply chain.”

ILWU-PMA Contract Negotiations

Seroka is hopeful that contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) will result in a contract for U.S. West Coast ports without a repeat of the disruptions that occurred during the 2014-2015 negotiations: “I believe there is reason to have optimism about the resolution of contract negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA. They do have seasoned negotiators on both sides of the table. Each understands what’s at stake with respect to the American economy. The twenty-nine ports from Washington State down to San Diego represent about 12% of our nation’s GDP with countless job opportunities and with cargo coming in as never before. The contract will not be resolved by the end of the current agreements expiring so there is no reason to get nervous there. The ILWU has not gone on strike since the early 1970s. The rank-and-file members take a great deal of pride in what they are doing, and they want to keep America’s economy moving but they need to be paid what they’re worth.”

Biden Administration Cargo Sharing Initiative.

Seroka was present with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and others when the Biden Administration announced a new nationwide cargo sharing initiative, the Freight Logistics Optimization Works, or FLOW. The system is a larger version of the Port Optimizer system that the Port of Los Angeles uses for sharing of information with its container terminals: “With the Port of Los Angeles’s Port Optimizer data sharing system, we still have the nation’s first and only port community information system … We have been able to bring in information and then share it across the nodes and partnerships in the supply chain. We need a larger scale participation and that’s exactly what the FLOW system is going to do. I spent last Tuesday at the White House … they brought together 18 different organizations of cargo and service providers to kick off this conversation of how we share data. We have now got to develop this into the application programming interface environment. We have to instill confidence across the supply chain. The data to be shared should be generic in nature. It does not have to be proprietary. If we can see information on cargo coming to us earlier, we can better plan our skilled labor and our machinery.”

Port of Oakland Sailing Reductions Impacting Ag Exporters

Seroka said: “In the Port of Oakland’s case, sailings were cut off because the supply chain was out of sync, sailings were off schedule. Liner companies were trying to make up time … We witnessed the Central Valley of California especially the ranchers, farmers, and ag producers really rely on the Port of Oakland for exports. Any support for that I am a strong advocate for. We’ve got to get our exporters connected with their customers. We’ve got to use every great asset we have in this great State of California, including our ports. I am so supportive of what Danny Wan is doing in the Port of Oakland and Mayor Schaaf and all the customers that they serve.”

New Port of Los Angeles Worker Training Facility

Seroka discussed the need for more worker training, recruitment and a new goods movement training center at the Port: “As a result of the inspiration provided by one of our late Harbor commissioners, David Arian, a former international president of the ILWU, we thought early on that we could create a training center that could help port workers broadly and that’s now going to come to fruition. Within months, we’ll be turning … dirt on a 20-acre facility at the North end of the Port that will be the first goods movements training center. It has the ability to reskill and upskill longshore workers. It will also take truckers and put them on a path to getting commercial driver’s licenses and many other areas … It is my hope we can take a youngster who is just walking in who says ‘I want to be a part of this Port complex’ … I am so pleased that … California Governor’s Newsom’s planned budget has … a line item for $110 million dollars designated for a training facility like this right in our state … We have put together the land and, subject to Harbor Commission approval, $40 million dollars in cash to invest in this particular property as well as build curricula across a wide variety of job categories … On the docks and around the Port every day about 100,000 people go to moving cargo. In the five Southern California counties there are more than 1 million jobs that are generated by this Port. The need for investment in the talent is right before us every day. We are working closely with the schools, the families, the communities the churches, and in addition to elected officials, policy makers and then bringing together a strength in numbers we have not seen before. It’s a very interesting and exciting time.”

Green Ship Collaboration with Port of Shanghai

Seroka explained that “Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wanted us to come up with a green ship corridor to reach the goal of a zero-emissions ship corridor within the next decade. What we did was to come up to our friends in Shanghai to create a public-private partnership with liner shipping companies and other cargo interests. We put out an announcement at the last C40 meeting in Copenhagen. (C40 is a network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities collaborating to address ‘climate crisis’ issues) In the coming months, we will be announcing milestones that we will be measured against and those participants that will be joining us. A very exciting time right now in one of the world’s largest trade corridors.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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