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L.A. Port to Operate Around the Clock to Ease Cargo Logjams


WASHINGTON—One of the country’s busiest ports will operate around the clock in an effort to ease cargo bottlenecks that have led to shortages and higher consumer costs, a change announced by the White House as it seeks to alleviate supply-chain issues ahead of the holidays.

By going to 24/7, the Port of Los Angeles will join the neighboring Port of Long Beach, Calif., which started doing a similar thing last month. Major ports in Asia and Europe have operated around the clock for years.

Expanded operations at the Port of Los Angeles would nearly double the hours that cargo can move, according to the White House. It said the extra shifts have been agreed to by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dock workers.

The Port of Long Beach struggled to increase cargo flows after it extended its opening hours, with truckers complaining that restrictions put on them for picking up and dropping off containers were too onerous. Shortages of truck drivers and warehouse workers have also posed problems across supply chains. It remains unclear how many of the terminals in Los Angeles will operate 24/7 and when those operations will begin.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director

Gene Seroka

said details of the overnight hours are still being worked out with companies in the supply chain.

“Today’s announcement has the potential to be a game changer,” President Biden said. “I say potential because all of these goods won’t move by themselves. For the positive impact to be felt all across the country, and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who order the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from ships to factories and to stores to step up as well.”

The American supply chain has struggled to adapt to a crush of imports as consumers shifted from services to home goods, including electronics, and as businesses rush to restock pandemic-depleted inventories. Hundreds of thousands of containers are stuck at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, the West Coast gateways that move more than a quarter of all American imports. Dozens of ships are anchored off the coast, with waiting times stretching to three weeks.

Satellite images show the scale of the backlog at ports in California, as continuing supply chain issues now threaten the holiday shopping season. WSJ’s Jennifer Smith explains what’s causing the holdups for ships and cargo. Photo: Planet Labs Inc

The supply-chain snarl is leading to higher prices and helping drive inflation, which accelerated slightly in September, posing another challenge for Mr. Biden, whose policy agenda is tied up in negotiations in Congress. The administration has been confronted with an array of supply-chain problems, affecting everything from lumber to semiconductors, and it has been seeking ways to partner with private industry to ease the backlog.

Walmart Inc.,

FedEx Corp.


United Parcel Service Inc.

are among the companies that have stepped up operations at the ports, according to the White House, with the expectation that other companies will adopt the same cycle.

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Commitments from six companies would allow 3,500 additional containers a week to move at night through the end of the year, the White House said.

Through the first eight months of this year, the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handled more than 13.6 million containers, measured in 20-foot equivalent units, a shipping industry trade measure. That included the equivalent of 893,098 loaded inbound containers in August, or more than 200,000 each week, according to figures from the ports.

To get around the delays, some retailers like Walmart,

Home Depot Inc.


Costco Wholesale Corp.

are paying for their own chartered ships as part of wider plans to mitigate the disruptions.

Mr. Biden met virtually on Wednesday afternoon with directors of the ports, union officials, chief executives, including those from

Target Corp.


Samsung Electronics Co.

, as well as trucking and rail associations.

“This is a good first step, although it is quite astonishing, and a measure of how severe this is, that it apparently takes the personal involvement of the president of the United States to get this obvious measure implemented,” said Bjorn Vang Jensen, vice president of global supply chain at Denmark-based marine data company Sea-Intelligence ApS.

“It is also encouraging to see that President Biden is meeting with representatives of both importers as well as the trucking and rail communities,” he added. “Without the full engagement of all these supply chain constituents, you could keep the port open round the clock for nothing, as containers would just continue to pile up in the yard.”

There has been disagreement over 24/7 operations and finger pointing among key players in the supply chain, which includes port workers, truckers, warehouse operators, railways and retailers.

The Southern California ports are generally open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. They are open for limited hours on Saturdays and are usually closed on Sundays.

When the Port of Long Beach initially expanded its hours to 24 hours a day, four days a week, it failed to attract more trucks, with trucking companies saying the process was burdensome. Port of Long Beach deputy executive director Noel Hacegaba said the program was tweaked in recent weeks to be less restrictive and that some truckers have started to use the early morning hours.

Some terminal operators say there is no point extending hours when many of their regular pickup slots go unused by truckers. “We are open 90 hours a week now with 60% utilization,” said Sal Ferrigno, vice president of SSA Terminals, which operates three terminals at Long Beach.

Truckers say they are hamstrung by shortages of the equipment needed to move containers and by warehouses that are full or open during limited hours.

Treasury Secretary

Janet Yellen,

in an interview with CBS Evening News on Tuesday, acknowledged there would be some shortages in the coming months.

“But there is an ample supply of goods,” she said. “And I think there’s no reason for consumers to panic about the absence of goods that they’re gonna want to acquire at Christmas.”

Write to Alex Leary at [email protected] and Paul Berger at [email protected]

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