(CN) — Dozens of cargo ships carrying as many as 1 million containers bob idly off the California coast, many filled with things that ideally will end up on store shelves and then under Christmas trees and in stockings this holiday season. The flotilla is the aftermath of a perfect storm created by the Covid-19 pandemic: A surge in e-commerce accompanied by a labor disruption for thousands of port workers tasked with getting goods off the ships.
E-commerce sales increased 39% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020, while the jobs of 1,800 Southern California port workers were disrupted because of a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year, according to the White House.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a solution. In a plan developed by the White House's supply chain disruptions task force, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will ramp up to 24/7 operations ahead of the holiday season.
In a public address following a meeting with the commissioners for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, President Joe Biden, perhaps acknowledging the average American likely doesn’t know the ins and outs of the U.S. supply chain, gave a 101 explainer on the topic where he noted the sector is almost entirely controlled by private businesses.
“Today’s announcement has the potential to be a game-changer,” Biden said.
He added: “I say potential because all of these goods won’t move by themselves. For the positive impact to be felt all across the country and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who ordered the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from the ships to factories and the stores to step up as well.”
Most of the leading countries in the world have a 24/7 supply chain system, Biden said, and now the U.S. is going to meet that global standard.
“Our goal is not only get through this immediate bottleneck, but to address the longstanding weaknesses in our transportation supply chain that this pandemic has exposed,” Biden said.
Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, National Economic Council director Brian Deese and Port envoy John Porcari had met with labor leaders and officials from major retailers and shippers including Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot and Target to discuss commitments by the corporations to move inventory currently bottlenecked at the Southern California ports.
Corporate officials agreed to ramp up nighttime or 24/7 operations to move containers faster. Across the six companies, 3,500 additional containers per week will be moved at night through the end of the year.
The officials also discussed other solutions to relieve congestion at the ports including temporary expansion of warehousing and rail service, improving data sharing and increasing recruitment of truck drivers.
Due to worker shortages during the pandemic — both at the ports and inland — dozens of container ships off the California coast have been waiting to unload goods.
On Oct. 7, an estimated 60 container ships waited in open water outside Los Angeles and Long Beach to unload their goods. As of Wednesday, there were 22 vessels in the Port of Los Angeles, including 18 container ships, according to the port.
The supply chain problems currently plaguing the California coast aren’t unique to the Golden State.
Nationally, a shortage of long-haul truckers has led some companies to recruit abroad.
Global ports have also been burdened by Covid-19-related shutdowns and disruptions, with two of the five largest ports in the world — located in China — experiencing multiweek partial-terminal closures due to Covid-19 outbreaks.
As for the SoCal ports, Long Beach expanded its operations in mid-September. Now Los Angeles has followed suit, nearly doubling the hours cargo will be able to move out of its docks and on highways.
Workers can move goods faster during off-peak hours, according to the White House. At the Port of LA, goods move 25% faster at night than during the day.
The union representing port workers — the International Longshore and Warehouse Union — also announced Wednesday its members were willing to work extra nighttime and weekend shifts.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.