West Coast port problems impact gravestone business, grieving families

OAKLAND (KTVU) - Everywhere on earth, gravestones are important to billions of people and the U.S. is no exception. While West Coast ports laid idle Thursday, so did container upon container of granite slabs destined to be headstones.

The Rader family who owns Colma's Art in Stone, designer of custom-made headstones and memorials, are caught up in that mess.

"The majority of the granite we order today comes from either India or China, so ports have a lot to do with our business," says Mike Rader, President of Art In Stone.

A few months ago, his supply chain abruptly slowed down. "When I had my orders delayed by a couple months, my supplier told me, ‘Oh, there's a port slowdown' and I thought he was just making excuses," says Rader.

But when he checked shipping manifest online, he knew he might be in serious trouble with custom designs. "When those customers come along, I have to order each memorial to spec and several months to get it prepared in India and China and get it over here," says Rader.

In many cultures, the date the headstone is actually displayed is critically important. When that date is missed, it only makes the grief of losing the loved one even more grievous.

"Asian cultures, Greek cultures, Samoan cultures all over. Everybody's got their own particular deadlines. And, usually, when I take an order in advance, I know what those deadlines are and I do everything in my power to meet it. But with the port slowdowns, it's out of my hands," laments Rader.

Rader says word of mouth from families served determines almost all future business, "Each community is very close; the Russian community, the Jewish community, the Asian community and they talk between one another."

This problem applies to any imported granite, slate or rocks for home or commercial use, but the headstone issue seems unforgivable.

Informed sources tell KTVU the Longshore Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, a consortium of oceans cargo lines and port terminal operators, have failed to reach an agreement.

That means there could be a complete port lockout at any time.