U.S. ag exporters are suffering painful losses after a union stopped work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach amid protracted contract negotiations, according to the Agriculture Transportation Coalition. 

Companies shipping meat, dairy, produce and other goods to the marine terminals at the largest port complex in the U.S. are scrambling to try to save the goods that were destined for Asia and elsewhere while racking up thousands of dollars in new expenses.

Ag shipments that arrived after work halted in Los Angeles and Long Beach are looking for alternative routes.

Shipments arriving at “closed terminals will create massive disruption, as storage must be found, rental paid for the chassis, trucks, and then additional trucking hired to get the containers back to the terminals when they reopen,” says AgTC Executive Director Peter Friedmann.

The largest local division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union stopped labor at both ports, according to a statement released Friday by the Pacific Maritime Association, a non-profit organization that represents employers of shipping companies like Maersk and Hapag Lloyd. 

“The union’s coordinated actions are occurring while negotiations for a new coastwise contract continue,” the PMA said. “This latest work action comes three weeks after ILWU Local 13 in Southern California stopped complying with a contract provision providing employers the right to assign staggered shifts during meal periods. These actions undermine confidence in West Coast ports. The health of the Southern California and state economy depend on the ability of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to stem this market share erosion.”

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ILWU union officials have said the work stoppage Thursday and Friday was due to observance of Easter weekend, according to reports from ABC7 Eyewitness News.

For U.S. ag producers and shippers, the disruption not only threatens immediate exports, but also the confidence in foreign buyers.

“US agriculture’s largest international markets are in the Asia Pacific: Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam,” Friedmann said. “The most direct and fastest route from U.S. agriculture origins is by truck or rail to the West Coast gateways, then straight across the Pacific to those customers. U.S. ag faces extremely competitive global sourcing competition, so must be faster and less expensive to keep our markets.”