A protracted contract dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and West Coast ports is wreaking havoc on California’s agricultural industry. The union represents 20,000 workers; 29 ports have been affected by work slowdowns and shutdowns. The citrus industry is being hit particularly hard. It is the peak season for exports to China, Japan and other nations, and delays of several weeks are costing producers, packing houses and exporters millions of dollars each week.
The unseasonably warm weather is adding to producers’ woes, causing unpicked fruit to deteriorate more quickly. The reduction in exports has led to a glut of fruit on the domestic market, and a windfall for American consumers, who are paying lower prices.
California citrus producers are already on the ropes due to an infestation of Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive pest that vectors a deadly disease called Huanglongbing (HLB), also referred to as “citrus greening disease.” The identification of the pest has numerous counties in California under quarantine, which makes citrus production and packaging more challenging. The state is also in its fourth year of drought, and producers are paying a premium for water.
Al Bates, president of Sun Pacific Shippers and Farming, told Peter Fimrite (@pfimrite):
The port stalemate is “the number one concern of this industry right now,” Bates said. “Everyone’s bottom line is likely to be impacted by 30 to 40 percent this year. When your costs have already been dramatically increasing over the last few years because of water costs and a lot more invasive pests, it’s really hard to take.”
President Obama has dispatched Labor Secretary Tom Perez to California to try to push both sides to an agreement.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports.