Oceanside, CA – Union longshoremen on the U.S. West Coast ended their weeks-long slowdown, but the new tentative contract with the shipping industry did not mean that international trade show freight immediately began flowing freely off the docks.
Ports from San Diego to Seattle – and Los Angeles and the Bay Area in particular – remained swamped in late February with ships waiting to unload and thousands of cargo containers that must still pass through Customs and wait to be loaded on to trucks.
“This is great news for international exhibitors and show management; however, exhibitors should still be cautious,” said Phil Hobson, president of Phoenix International Business Logistics, Inc. “Similar strikes in the past have resulted in months of continued congestion. It will take anywhere from between three and six months for the port and supporting vendors to get back to normal.”
Hobson’s New Jersey freight-forwarding company had, in fact, urged overseas exhibitors to consider shipping their exhibition goods through the East Coast or by air. He told Trade Show Executive (TSE) that avoiding congested ports was still a prudent idea. “Until we feel comfortable that sea freight shipments are being received and made available in a timely manner, we are going to continue recommending exhibitors and our worldwide agents to avoid West Coast ports and to ship well in advance,” he said.
The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) had been locked in a contract dispute since last Fall. The ILWU was accused of carrying out a slowdown at major ports such as Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland. The new five-year contract must be ratified by the longshoremen, but the two sides said in a joint statement on February 20 that “our ports can now resume full operations.”
Hobson and others in the exhibition industry said most trade shows were receiving freight on time, although there were plenty of 11th-hour arrivals that forced exhibitors to hurriedly unpack before opening day. “Those types of nail-biters were happening at shows across the U.S.,” said Hobson.
Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at UBM Advanstar, told TSE that the show bags for FN PLATFORM were not released from the docks until February 12, less than a week before the opening of MAGIC Market. “This situation is affecting everyone,” she said, including “manufacturers who have season-sensitive products, consumers and most importantly, the economic health of Southern California.”
Global Experience Specialists (GES) said it did not experience any significant problems with freight during the waterfront dispute, but monitored the situation closely. Kuehne + Nagel (KN), another prominent freight forwarder and customs broker for trade shows, also got its goods to their destinations on time. “We have been experiencing delays but no exhibitors have yet to miss an exhibition,” Jacqueline Russo, vice president of KN Exposervices North America, told TSE. “We were aware of the situation and worked with show management to offer discounted or free storage whenever possible for those exhibitors.”