(Oct. 17) SAN FRANCISCO — For produce companies shipping product through the West Coast ports, the fact that the ports remain open is good news and bad.

The good news is that perishable products are being moved first. The bad news is that they are not being moved quickly.

The Pacific Maritime Association said that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was not assigning enough dockworkers to handle the backlog of cargo, and those who were assigned were showing up late. The association stopped short of accusing the union of staging a work slowdown. The union, however, responded by denying any suggestion of a slowdown and attributing the problems to the congestion created by the 11-day lockout that began in late September.

The association said Oct. 14 that productivity at West Coast ports was about 20% below normal.
Meanwhile, the produce industry is continuing to examine the damages suffered by the lockout and figure out how best to deal with them.

Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., had about 142,000 cartons of citrus scheduled for export that had to be repackaged and sold domestically or turned into juice. In addition, the co-op lost at least 20,000 cartons altogether. Sunkist has put its damage estimates at about $2.3 million.

Public relations manager Claire Smith said shipments were beginning to move slowly but surely on Oct. 16.

“We’ve got 110,000 cartons going to Japan out of Hueneme,” she said. “We have some shipments trying to get out of Oakland for Korea, but we’re not sure what’s going to happen there.”

Chuck Schreiber, vice president of sales and marketing for Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif., said it was still difficult to get product in and out of the ports.

“There are work slowdowns right now. (The union is) claiming safety issues,” he said. “Excuses, I call them. It’s ridiculous that these people can hold the economy hostage.”

Schreiber said Tanimura & Antle moved a lot of product marked for export back to the domestic market, including broccoli, lettuce and celery. Most of it, he said, went for about half of what it would have in the export market.

“And that’s not including freight charges for shipping product to the ports and charges to bring it back down,” he said. “We got hit for a double freight charge.”

Ken Gilliland, manager of transportation and international trade for the Western Growers Association, Newport Beach, Calif., said although product was on its way to overseas destinations, things were pretty tight for new shipments on the ports. Some shipping lines, he said, were changing their schedules and skipping some ports in order to speed deliveries to other areas.

“It’s still untangling,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to be that way for two or three weeks.”

Some companies are finding different solutions for undeliverable product. America’s Second Harvest, Chicago, reported that Del Monte Fresh Produce NA, Coral Gables, Fla., had donated about 30 loads of fruit that it had been unable to move through West Coast ports.