This week, officials said hundreds of dock workers who worked long hours for more than a year to clear stranded ships in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were recently suspended as the micron variant of the coronavirus swept through their ranks. .
About 1,200 positive tests were received from ports across the West Coast from Jan. 1 to Jan. 10, said Jim McKenna, CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association, which oversees the hiring. About 80% were in Southern California.
But the disruption also covers those who are waiting for tests to return or are in quarantine after being infected.
As of Thursday, Jan. 13, about 800 workers were absent, McKenna said, taking into account the full range of testing and quarantine. This has reduced ranks in Long Beach and Los Angeles, where about 8,000 people work on the docks daily, by about 10%.
“This is the biggest surge we’ve seen in such a short time,” McKenna said in a phone interview late Thursday night.
“These guys have been working like crazy for the last year and a half,” he said, adding that the omicron surge has also hit truckers, about a third of whom are currently out of work, hard as well as warehouse workers.
The good news, he said, is that the number of hospitalizations is nowhere near what it was in the early months when the initial virus hit U.S. shores. So far, according to McKenna, he has not heard reports of deaths during this recent surge.
Also in the good news column: According to public health officials, there are signs that omicron cases may soon peak and begin to recede.
Port of Los Angeles Chief Executive Gene Seroka, speaking at a regular Harbor Commission meeting earlier Thursday, mentioned the increase in outages. But he also said he didn’t see any effect on cargo ship handling rates.
McKenna, however, said the terminals have reported a shortage of workers needed to unload waiting ships.
Frank Ponce De Leon, a member of the International Ports and Warehouses Union’s shore committee, said safety protocols are being followed, but this option is “catching up with every workforce in every industry, including ours.”
He added that the dock workers will continue to work hard but are “just as susceptible to COVID as any other worker.”
The twin ports have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cargo coming in throughout the pandemic, after an initial period when supplies briefly dropped. Ports regularly break monthly records for cargo shipments, and Los Angeles officials said last month that they expect to exceed 10 million twenty-foot equivalent units in calendar year 2021, the universal measurement of cargo.
And as a result, port workers had little chance of breathing, and many of them worked six days a week to keep up with the influx of cargo.
“Dockers are breaking records by moving more cargo than ever at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” Ponce De Leon said in November, as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announced they were extending truck terminal hours. as well as at night and on weekends. hours for shore crews to help move more cargo.
However, while port officials say they have made progress in closing the backlog, there is still a lot of work to be done.
As of late Wednesday evening, there were 104 container ships, of which 11 were anchored or loitering within a 40-mile radius around the twin ports, and 93 were slow moving or loitering outside the larger safety and air quality area. to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
According to McKenna, it now appears that a surge in shipments and backups could be maintained for all or most of this year.
“No recession is foreseen,” he said.