Christmas tree shipments from Matson Inc. to Hawaii are expected to incur little or no delays despite labor woes at major West Coast seaports.
The first of four consecutive weekend shipments was scheduled to leave Oakland, Calif., Tuesday and is expected to arrive Saturday night in Honolulu. The largest shipments are due to arrive Nov. 22 and 29, with a final smaller shipment expected to come in Dec. 6. This weekend’s smaller shipment is typically used by retailers for displays and for the neighbor islands.
"At this time we do not expect any delays to our Christmas tree shipments," Matson spokesman Jeff Hull said Tuesday. "We’ve experienced some delays (for other types of shipments) but certainly not any cancellations or complete shutdowns. So the cargo is continuing to flow, and we expect little or no delay to the Christmas tree shipments at this time."
The Christmas trees, which come from the Pacific Northwest, are shipped from Seattle to Oakland to Honolulu. They typically go through agricultural inspection the morning after they arrive and then are released.
While Hawaii seems to be relatively unscathed at this time, a worker slowdown at the West Coast seaports has slowed the export of a record crop of Washington apples and endangered big Christmas season shipments of the fruit to Central American nations.
Delays also have hit shipments of cars, smartphones and numerous other products as longshoremen and shippers try to hammer out a new contract involving work at 29 West Coast ports.
The slowdown comes at a critical time of year, as other shipments of holiday goods arrive from Asia and await distribution across the country.
Washington grows the most apples in the nation and this year produced a huge crop of about 155 million 40-pound boxes — 35 percent more than usual.
"With the record apple crop we are having this year, the need to move Washington apples outside of the United States is even greater," said Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission.
The biggest importers of Washington apples are Mexico and Canada, which don’t require ocean shipping. But exports are sent by ship to some 60 other countries, including many where the fruit is a traditional part of the Christmas season, Lyons said.
"In some markets, like Central America, 50 percent of our shipments occur before Christmas," Lyons said. "Once you miss that Christmas window, it’s very difficult to catch up again."
The timetable has been complicated as the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines, has accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of deliberately slowing work to gain bargaining leverage.
The association complained last week that the union isn’t dispatching enough workers at the giant ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to efficiently load import containers onto trucks and trains.
The association also has said union crane operators in Washington state have moved cargo at half-speed.
The union has countered that its members are simply working safely, and it blames a lack of hiring by shippers and a shortage of equipment for the delays.
Spokesman Craig Merrilees of the ILWU declined to confirm or deny whether the slowdown is intentional and laid the problems at the feet of management.
Star-Advertiser reporter Dave Segal and the Associated Press contributed to this story.