Port of Los Angeles keeps a close eye on labor talks as cargo volumes surge for third month

Cargo volumes at the Port of Los Angeles rose for the third straight month in May, but remain below pre-pandemic numbers amid protracted West Coast labor negotiations and economic uncertainty.

The country’s busiest container port handled 779,140 TEUs last month, a 60% increase in volume compared to February’s low water mark and the highest monthly volume since last August. However, May volumes represent a 6% decline compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019 and the five-year moving average for the month of May.

In his monthly media briefing, Port of Los Angeles executive Gene Seroka hailed the positive momentum but noted that a West Coast labor deal and a healthy U.S. economy are key factors moving forward in the remainder of 2023.

“Even as volume increases, our terminals are far from being at full capacity,” Gene Seroka said during a media briefing on Tuesday. “We are seeing more ships sailing across the Pacific to Los Angeles, which is an encouraging sign for the second half of the year.”

In May 2023, loaded imports reached 409,150 TEU, down 18% from May 2022, while loaded exports reached 101,741 TEU, down 19% year-on-year. Empty containers landed at 268,249 TEU, down 22% year-on-year.

Year to date, the Port of Los Angeles has handled 3,304,344 TEUs through May, down 27% compared to the same period in 2022 and 15% below the five-year average.

In his briefing, Seroka addressed the impact of ongoing labor contract negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA, saying that despite the uncertain situation, the Port of Los Angeles has been able to operate “nearly normal” this month and disruptions have been minimal.

Acting US Secretary of Labor Julie Su was in San Francisco today to urge both sides to reach an agreement.

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