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Longshoremen Dispute Threatens Trade Show Exhibitor Timetables


Oceanside, CA – A labor dispute that has bogged down operations at U.S. West Coast seaports has become a concern for trade show exhibitors who are bringing in freight from overseas.

Containers that should have been aboard trucks and on the road weeks ago are instead languishing in Long Beach, Oakland and other major ports as shipping companies and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) remained locked in a contract dispute that has resulted in a partial lockout and allegations of a worker slowdown.

“We are working with exhibitors and our overseas agents to route LCL (less than container load) exports through East Coast ports two weeks prior to the originally scheduled time, and we will organize ground transport to our upcoming shows,” said Phil Hobson, president of Phoenix International Business Logistics, a New Jersey company that provides freight-forwarding and customs-brokerage services for exhibitors. “This type of planning will help ensure timely arrival at the trade show site.”

Hobson said the situation on the West Coast docks was creating delays of more than a week, and he advised exhibitors to send out their freight two to four weeks earlier than planned, or else make arrangements to send it through the East Coast, which is the jurisdiction of the International Longshore Association.

Hobson said the growing congestion on the docks had resulted in exhibits clearing customs later than planned, forcing some exhibits to be rushed to the show in the nick of time. “These types of nail-biters are now happening at shows across the U.S.,” he said.

MAGIC Market experienced some fallout in the run-up to the February 17-19 Las Vegas apparel show. Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at UBM Advanstar, told Trade Show Executive (TSE) that the show bags for FN PLATFORM were not released from the docks until February 12. “This situation is affecting everyone,” she said, including “manufacturers who have season-sensitive products, consumers and most importantly, the economic health of Southern California.”

No significant delays for exhibitor freight were reported by Global Experience Specialists (GES), but managers there were aware of the situation and were monitoring it closely. Kuehne + Nagel (KN), a prominent freight forwarder and customs broker for trade shows, was also getting its goods to their destinations on time. “We have been experiencing delays but no exhibitors have yet to miss an exhibition,” Jacqueline Russo, vice president of KN Exposervices North America, told TSE. “We are aware of the situation and are working with show management to offer discounted or free storage whenever possible for those exhibitors shipping extra early.”

Still, there were warnings from the business community that the slow pace of work on the docks from San Diego to Seattle could have dire consequences for the entire economy.

The National Retail Federation issued a 30-page report on the economic impact of the dispute and warned that the entire U.S. logistics chain could be thrown into chaos as goods fail to show up at their destinations on time. Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, called on President Obama to visit the Port of Oakland during his mid-February trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and “see for himself the immense backup of goods caused by the labor slowdown.”

The ILWU has publicly denied it was staging a slowdown. The shippers, represented by the Pacific Marine Association (PMA), said it had statistical proof that the union was dispatching fewer crane operators to the ports. The PMA added fuel to the fire by suspending weekend and holiday operations. The association said that if the workers wanted to drag their feet, they could do so on straight time.

This is not the first time the feisty ILWU has flexed its muscle with the PMA, but as weeks drag on, it is starting to make waves in convention centers well away from the waterfront.

Reach Phil Hobson at (908) 355-8900 or; Leslie Gallin at (310) 857-7655 or; Jackie Russo at (847) 290-3450 or; Gary Shapiro at (703) 907-7600 or

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