On the waterfront: Prolonged lockout could hurt catalogers

The West Coast port lockout involving the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) could spell big problems for catalogers and retailers importing fall and holiday merchandise from Asia.

At issue is a lapsed July 1 contract between the two groups. The ILWU is concerned about wage and benefit increases. The PMA, which represents the seaport terminal operators, wants the union to accept its proposal. But after productivity slowed considerably this past weekend, the PMA accused the union of staging disruptive work slowdowns. So on Sept. 29, the PMA said it would keep all 29 major West Coast ports closed until the longshoremen agree to extend their expired contract as the talks continue.

For its part, the union refuses to budge until the lockout ends. Any shutdown lasting more than 10 days will likely wreak havoc on the nation’s economy. West Coast ports handled more than $300 billion in cargo over the past year. According to Eric Autor, vice president/international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, nearly all the merchandise coming into this country passes through the West Coast ports.

But for at least one cataloger and major importer of Asian goods, Lillian Vernon Corp., the lockout has “no impact right now and very little impact in the future,” insists spokesperson David Hochberg. Most of the mailer’s water service shipments from Asia go through the Panama Canal then up to Norfolk, VA, “which is one of the reasons our distribution center is located there,” he says.

Lillian Vernon imports 1,200 containers a year, Hochberg says, four of which do travel through a West Coast port. The first of these containers is due into the West Coast port on Oct. 7, but since the four containers hold a total of 10 SKUs, the cataloger isn’t concerned at this point.

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