As cargo volumes at the Port of Long Beach dipped in June, Los Angeles saw its fourth consecutive month of growth since a dismal February.
During a press conference Wednesday, Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka announced the nation’s busiest container port moved 833,035 20-foot-equivalent units—the standard measure of shipping containers.
“Amazon is reporting that its Prime Days are expected to be its best ever, and that’s a great indicator that consumers are still willing to spend,” Seroka said, noting that the port is seeing some “softness” in July with nine canceled sailings.
“So cargo will be down compared to June,” he said.
June’s volume is a continuation of steady growth since February, which saw the port move only 487,846 TEUs—one of its slowest months in recent years, second only to March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic was shutting down facilities in China.
Year-to-date, the Port of LA has moved nearly 4.14 million TEUs, compared to over 5.41 million during the same period last year.
In Long Beach, meanwhile, dockworkers moved 597,076 TEUs, down from 758,225 in May, which was the third consecutive month of growth after a slow February. The June figure marks a 28.5% decline from the same month last year, which was the port’s busiest June on record.
Through the first half of the year, the Port of Long Beach has moved over 3.72 million TEUs, compared to over 5 million in the first six months of 2022.
A leading factor to the San Pedro Bay ports’ struggles this year is the loss of market share to East and Gulf coast ports, first due to a historic backlog of ships amid a pandemic boom in online shopping and then due to labor concerns related to negotiations between dockworkers and their employers.
“We are hopeful to obtain a greater percentile of market share,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement. “We remain confident that our reliability, efficiency and unparalleled service will attract additional trade and economic activity to our Port.”
Last year, the Port of New York and New Jersey, which has long been the third-busiest U.S. complex overtook longtime-runner-up Long Beach in annual container volumes. The East Coast port continued to outperform Long Beach well into this year, but the West Coast port reclaimed its number two rank as of May, according to data from both ports—but it’s close.
New York-New Jersey has not yet released its June data.
Seroka is also confident that the twin ports will regain some of their lost cargo now that an end to extended labor negotiations is in sight, but he also acknowledges that, based on past experiences, it is likely that a portion of that market share will never come back to the West Coast.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents tens of thousands of West Coast dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shipping companies, began negotiations in May 2022. The talks dragged on over a year, which led to numerous work actions, including wildcat strikes.
On June 14, after more than 13 months, the organizations announced a tentative contract agreement. One week later, during an interview with Cordero, ILWU president Willie Adams stated the union would convene a caucus in Long Beach sometime in July to discuss the agreement before a ratification vote was held unionwide.
The union declined to comment about when the caucus would take place or when a ratification vote is expected.
The PMA declined to comment on its next steps following the tentative agreement announcement.
Julie Su, acting labor secretary for the Biden administration, who was instrumental in the parties reaching a tentative agreement, joined Seroka during his press conference to discuss the process. Su recalled only packing for a two-day stay in San Francisco where negotiations were being held—but she ended up staying for a full week.
“My goal was to really support the collective bargaining process, which is so valuable and so important,” she said, noting that she was encouraging the groups to remain at the table despite butting heads.
“The most important lesson is that collective bargaining works,” Su said. “It’s a healthy process … to ensure workers get a fair share, to plan for stability and resilience … and to really lay down a path, not just for today, but for the future.”