Coronavirus takes heavy toll on Ports of LA, Long Beach

Friday, March 13, 2020
Coronavirus takes heavy toll on Ports of LA, Long Beach
With cargo volume down at the San Pedro Port Complex due to the coronavirus outbreak, port workers and local businesses are taking a hard hit.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- The coronavirus outbreak is hitting the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach hard.

"First, we have the trade war, which was severely affecting our volumes," said Phillip Sanfield, spokesperson for the Port of LA. "Now with that comes the coronavirus. We are now looking at a 25% volume decline in February of this year versus February of 2019."

With both ports combined, the San Pedro Bay Port Complex is the ninth largest port in the world.

"This is a massive economic generator," said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association. "Forty-percent of the goods flowing through this country come through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach."

LaBar said over 18,000 truckers service the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which is an unprecedented amount in the country.

According to Sanfield, over 100,000 people work on the waterfront. One in nine jobs in Southern California is associated with the ports in some way.

"That's about one million jobs when you look at directly and indirectly related," Sanfield said. "That's a major impact."

Big Nick's Pizza in San Pedro is feeling that impact.

"It's a trickle-down effect," said John Bagakis, general manager of Big Nick's Pizza, which sits across from the Port of LA. "The lunch crowds are smaller, the deliveries are less. We're cutting our staff a lot earlier than we normally would when the port is full."

"Our community is at a standstill," said ILWU Local 13 Benefits Officer, Vivan Malauulu. " If we're not working, we're not out there dining in restaurants, not investing in our community, people are being laid off."

Vivian Malauulu and her husband each have more than 20 years of experience as longshore workers on the port.

"My husband is seeing 2 or 3 days a week when normally he would see 5 or 6 shifts a week," she said. "We've got workers on the docks, at our dispatch hall every morning looking for work and there is just no work for them."

Malauulu suggested that her employer use this time to employ its workers to focus on repairs.

"We have machines and equipment not up to safety par, so if we can get our workers out there to repair them while the work is slow and.if we can get the paint onto our terminals while there is no traffic on the terminals then that would be an intelligent use of time," she said.

Port officials said they expect declines to continue through the end of the month, but when cargo finally leaves ports overseas, then the San Pedro Bay Complex will have another problems on its hands.

"Then we will have an opposite problem: a congestion of ships coming into this complex," said Sanfield. "That's a problem we'd like to have right now because right now we're just seeing a decrease in cargo."

Follow Rachel on social media: