Ports Workers Face Huge Backlog After Dispute Ends

Image: Freighters and cargo containers sit idle at the Port of Los Angeles as a back-log of over 30 container ships sit anchored outside the Port in Los Angeles
Cargo containers sit idle at the Port of Los Angeles as a back-log of over 30 container ships sit anchored outside the Port in Los Angeles, California, February 18, 2015. U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez planned to hold a second round of talks with shipping company executives and union leaders for 20,000 dock workers on Wednesday, seeking to broker a deal to end months of labor turmoil clogging cargo traffic at 29 West Coast ports. REUTERS/Bob Riha, Jr. (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT)BOB RIHA JR / Reuters

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Dockworkers along the West Coast began the monthslong task Saturday of clearing seaports of cargo that was caught up in a contract feud between their union and employers.

Parked off the Southern California coast is a flotilla of ships bulging with thousands of tractor-trailer sized containers that hold a shopper's delight of goods — which already would be on store shelves but for a labor dispute that has disrupted international trade.

The leader of the Port of Los Angeles, the nation's largest, said it would take three months "to get back a sense of normalcy." The mass of containers on ships waiting to dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long beach, if put in a line, would stretch 579 miles. Unloading and loading resumed Saturday.

Companies that operate marine terminals cut night, weekend and holiday shifts — saying they did not want to pay overtime for what amounted to a "strike with pay." That was a reference to what they said was a worker slowdown that began in November. The union said longshoremen were abiding by all safety rules.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement Friday night. The deal must be approved by 13,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union's rank-and-file, as well as the full Pacific Maritime Association of employers. "I suspect that people will be getting a lot of overtime in the days ahead," said U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who was sent to help try and broker a deal.

Jake Ferguson rides a wave Friday at Sunset Beach, Calif., as loaded cargo ships are anchored outside the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.Jae C. Hong / AP


— The Associated Press