Four-day West Coast port shutdown could threaten Bay Area businesses

OAKLAND, Calif. - Another shutdown of 29 West Coast ports threatens to deal another blow to the region's economy.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents 70 ocean cargo lines and port terminal operators announced Wednesday that they will stop most operations on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, refusing to pay higher wages to dock workers on Lincoln's birthday, the weekend, and President's Day.

The ports had barely reopened after last weekend's shutdown. The move comes as contract negotiations between PMA and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union drag into the ninth month with no contract deal.

Cargo yards will remain open allowing containers to be picked up. In Oakland, Matson will be open February 12th and Ports America Outer Harbor will be open for limited operations.

The ILWU President Robert McElrath urged members to stay united, posting a message in a YouTube video.

"You know the truth. We want to go to work and they're blaming us. There's space on the docks to unload vessels. There's cargo to be delivered and we're here to do it," he said.

The latest standoff between shippers and dock workers is yet another setback for everyone else who depends on the port.

Some say they're bearing the cost of the conflict. Oakland's R&A Trucking is among many companies getting stuck with the empty cargo containers.

"We have no place to take them. The ports won't accept them, the terminals, a lot of the steamship lines are just saying deal with it, hold on to it," said Ben Soleimanieh, R&A Trucking Operations Manager.

But truckers say the shipping companies continue charging them daily fees for each container not returned.

"Right now we have per diem bills from different steamship lines varying anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000," Soleimanieh told KTVU.

Customers and consumers are also having to bear extra costs.

"They're having to pay standby times for trucks waiting down there for 8 hours at a time," said Eric Weakley, President of R&A Trucking, who showed KTVU around the company's Oakland warehouse.

One of R&A Trucking's concerns is imported aluminum. The company picks up giant coils of aluminum used to build cars for Tesla and transports them from the port to Tesla's factory in Fremont.

Weakley warns that if the shutdowns continue, it could damage the supply chain of raw materials used to build components of the vehicles.

"Then they wouldn't have enough aluminum to build that part, in essence they couldn't build the car, it would shut down the factory," Weakley told KTVU.

Oakland Port officials say as of Wednesday, 12 ships are docked in berths, while 16 are stuck outside the port still waiting to unload.

Negotiations are expected resume at 1 p.m. Thursday.