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Port of Los Angeles Keeping a Close Eye on Labor Talks as Cargo Volumes Gain for Third Month

Cargo volumes at the Port of Los Angeles increased for the third consecutive month in May but continue to track below pre-pandemic numbers amid protracted West Coast labor negotiations and uncertainty in the economy. 

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

In his monthly media briefing, Gene Seroka, the Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, welcomed the positive momentum but noted that a West Coast labor deal and a healthy U.S. economy are key factors for the remainder of 2023.

“Even with improving volume, our terminals are still far from operating at full capacity,” said Gene Seroka during a media briefing on Tuesday. “We’re starting to see more vessels headed 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 TEUs, down 18% compared to May 2022, while loaded exports came in at 101,741 TEUs, marking a decline of 19% compared to last year. Empty containers landed at 268,249 TEUs, reflecting a 22% year-over-year decline.

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

In his briefing, Seroka addressed impacts from ongoing labor contract talks between the ILWU and PMA, saying that despite the fluid situation the Port of Los Angeles has been able to operate “close to normal” this month and disruption has been minimal.

Today, Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su was in San Francisco to urge both sides to come to agreement.