Port of Oakland

The mega-ship MSC Sola waits to be offloaded at berth 25 at the Ports of America at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.

A labor dispute once again shut down the largest container terminal at the Port of Oakland last week, which did little to help the recovery from a previous dispute that had slowed West Coast ports to a crawl. It's having an impact on Yuba-Sutter growers and businesses.

The Oakland International Container Terminal, which is operated by SSA Marine, was shut down at noon Wednesday, but the port was up and running again on Thursday.

West Coast port operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union recently agreed on a tentative five-year contract, but this most recent dispute — involving staffing requirements for yard cranes — could put that agreement in jeopardy, according to the Journal of Commerce.

Meanwhile, local farmers are still feeling the consequences of the labor slowdown that started in November. The subsequent backlog of shipping containers clogging ports have caused delayed shipments, lost sales, upset customers and costly port charges.

"People think that (the shipping delays) are going away, but they really haven't. We've only had two loads go out since (the tentative labor agreement)," said Chris Silva, president of California Valley Nut Company. "We had one container that was supposed to go out this week, but they pushed it back to the beginning of May."

It's hard to say how much the recent slowdown affected the overall backlog of the port, but it didn't help, said Brandon Harder, director of government affairs with the Farmers' Rice Cooperative.

"We're still significantly behind," Harder said. "We took out extra warehouse space to store product. We need to get back up to speed."

Harder said the backlog at the Port of Oakland is so severe some shipping vessels are skipping the port all together.

Charee Thurman, director of export logistics at the California Valley Nut Company, said the company had seen a little movement following the tentative labor agreement, but the most recent dispute set shipments back again.

"What's frustrating to me is that one union can literally bring the West Coast to a screeching halt," Thurman said. "The walnut market kind of collapsed this year (when China pulled out of the market), so we're already hurting. When you add to that the inability to get anything shipped, it's salt in the wound."

Harder has heard it could be between three and seven months before shipping will return to normal.

Thurman said the delays have caused cash flow problems and sparked layoffs and labor cutbacks across the industry.

When companies export large shipments, they don't get paid the full amount up front. If the shipment is sent out late, the full payment is also late, Thurman said.

"When you see these huge delays, it starts throwing numbers off as well," Thurman said. "It has made budgeting a challenge this year."

CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.

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