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The Politics of Regaining Control of the Supply Chain

Shipping containers resting at LA Port

By Daivid L. Horne, PHD

It is interesting that when trouble comes for the U.S., it does not seem to discriminate between victimizing Black folks or White folks in this country. Sure, whatever the problem, the harder it seems to hit Black people since we still hold up the bottom and the laws of gravity always obtain. But the point is, we all get bitten by whatever big mad dog (or coyote) is on the prowl.

So it is with the long running supply-chain problems of the Los Angeles and Long Beach seaports. A few days ago, Californians even got to witness the POTUS himself coming to the state to urge some relatively quick resolution of the backlog issue connected with the L.A. port, since the port problems represent both a major federal and state concern. The result of his visit was a decision to man the Los Angeles port 24/7 just as the Long Beach port has already been doing for quite a while. The longer hours and additional manpower are aimed at drastically reducing the backlog of ships and containers. But, the fact is, the problem has already morphed into an issue much bigger than that and that solution won’t be enough.

What issue, you ask? Let’s ease into the answer. Number one, the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports combined represent the largest port facilities in the U.S. (some sources say in the entire Western Hemisphere). Together, they handle 35-40 percent of all the incoming and outgoing container shipments of goods and supplies annually for the U.S.  Through these two seaports combined, roughly 35 percent of all shipping containers travel to and from the United States, and through the two ports combined approximately 40 percent of all US imports come and more than 25 percent of all U.S. exports exit.

Number two, according to the port authority, the Los Angeles port alone covers over 12 square miles of sea and land and moves nearly $300 billion of cargo each year, especially to and from Asia. A bottleneck in this water route is of major consequence to both California and the U.S. And as of last week, more than 64 cargo ships, carrying more than 220,000 containers of goods sat idling at sea, with no real unloading schedule apparent. Goods and products are getting stale, while equipment and parts are on the way to rust and ruin.

Because of all this, holiday shopping will surely be much tougher in many parts of California and the U.S. this season, even as the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be ebbing away. Economic analysts have already predicted that Americans seem to be primed to spend huge amounts of money on goods and products more than just services this winter, and the bulk of their Christmas toys, clothes, games, cosmetics, technical products, etc., are anchored offshore, wilting and waiting.

Gov. Newsom just signed and issued an executive order to address this immediate problem, but his action, too, may not be enough. That order calls for state authorities to identify state, federal and privately-owned land parcels in the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Long Beach area that could be temporarily used to address short-term storage needs in order to move the cargo containers to shore. Secondly, his order authorizes state agencies to temporarily relax weight limitations for transport trucks on state roads. That means big trucks will briefly be able to ramble along state streets carrying more than the currently allowable 18,000 pounds. That may cause its own set of problems.

But the crux of the matter is not just the idling cargo in the containers, whether in the water or on land. The biggest and most unaddressed portion of the L.A. harbor problem is a distinct lack of available trucks and truck drivers to move the cargo once it is onshore and released from the ships and barges. Many more skilled truckers are immediately needed and that’s not an issue that will be readily solved. It is surely a gigantic job opportunity for those interested in this area, but truck hauling is not for the faint-hearted and it requires distinctive training.

The current average salary for long haul truckers is $52,500–$76,500, with $86, 500 relatively easy to achieve once regular and experienced. Several truckers annually make above $100,000, but the living ain’t easy.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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