Container import and export numbers continue to tell a positive story at the Port of Tacoma this year, with November showing a 9.5 percent increase over the same month last year.
Through last month, the port’s critical container volume statistics showed volume up 13.3 percent for 2012, according to new figures released this week by the port.
Much of that increase is because of the arrival of the Grand Alliance, a four-member shipping consortium that moved to Tacoma from the Port of Seattle in midsummer. The Port of Seattle’s statistics likewise showed the effects of that switch with the port reporting container volume down 19.5 percent in November.
Through the end of last month, the Port of Tacoma had seen 1,534,476 20-foot container units pass over its docks in 2012.
With a full year of Grand Alliance business in 2013, the port could approach the 2-million container unit mark.
That’s just below the level the port achieved in 2006, when the import and export business began its decline in the recession. Container traffic increases have been prompted by both the import and export business.
“Demand for auto parts, furniture, toys, tires and sporting goods helped drive full import container volumes up nearly 24 percent year to date through November to 545,242 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units),” the port said. “Meanwhile, agricultural products and such bulk commodities as scrap paper and wood in the rough helped export volumes improve 17 percent to 402,410 TEUs.”
The port’s break bulk business, goods too large or awkward to fit into containers, has seen even greater increases than the container business, port numbers show.
Through last month, that business was up 77.1 percent over 2011’s first 11 months.
Imports of gypsum, used to make wallboard, saw a 58.1 percent increase for the year through last month. Other categories of port activity, however, were down. Auto imports were off 7.8 percent for the year through November.
Grain shipments were off by 17.5 percent. And log exports in bulk were down nearly 45 percent. Some of that log business that formerly was loaded onto ships log-by-log is now being stuffed into containers for export. While the volume numbers were encouraging, the port, its container terminal operators and the Longshore Union are still struggling to handle the new volumes. The union is relying on its ranks of casual workers and longshore labor traveling from other ports to handle the volume of new work. The union has said it intends to elevate 80 casual members to “B” worker status. Casuals earn no benefits; B workers do.
But just how and when that promotion will occur remains unclear. The delays in some cases have caused casual workers to protest.
Longshore Union Local 23 President Scott Mason said the union has a strong desire to elevate casual workers to higher status in the union, but the particulars of how that will happen are still the subject of discussion at a higher level in the union and in the Pacific Maritime Association, a group that represents shippers and terminal operators.John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org