Calif. port labor dispute could derail Santa

There are growing concerns that a slowdown at the country's busiest ports could hit holiday shipments.

Because of a dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association, which runs the twin shipping ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and its workers, businesses could come to a halt on the West Coast, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Off the coast of California, giant cargo ships line up waiting to drop off their goods -- ships that are the lifeline for Pacific Play Tents executive vice president Brian Jablon.

He said it typically takes three days for the camping supplies and kid's tents he sells from China to get from the port to his warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. Now, it suddenly takes two weeks. His customers, including Walmart and Amazon, are not happy.

And now, he's worried about losing his business.

"Yeah, absolutely," Jablon said. "Not only losing business but it's killing our profit."

And he blames the union.

"The unions are trying to strong-arm whoever they're negotiating with, so they slow down emptying off the containers, they've held up the truckers at the port," Jablon said.

Jablon is caught in the middle of a union contract negotiation. Management accuses the union of a slowdown by "...unilaterally refusing to dispatch hundreds of qualified, skilled workers for critically important positions transporting containers in terminal yards."

The union does not deny that charge.

"It shouldn't surprise anybody that at a certain point, workers run out of patience and feel like they have to make their concerns known," spokesperson for International Longshore and Warehouse Union Craig Merrilees said. "And if that means that the companies need to hear that message -- hopefully they'll hear it, work harder to settle the contract and get everything resolved so things can get back on track."

Even before the slowdown, the nation's largest ports were already suffering the worst congestion in a decade due to massive new cargo ships and a shortage of truckers. Retailers worry about not having enough goods on their shelves.

The National Retail Federation sent a letter to President Obama asking for a federal mediator to settle the dispute. The group warned that "...a full shutdown of every West Coast port may be imminent." And the impact "would be catastrophic."

Brian Jablon said the slowdown has cost him $30,000 in just two weeks.

"We're eventually, to stay in business, going to have to increase our prices which means the retailer will increase their prices which means the consumers going to ultimately pay more, and we're all consumers so it's costing all of us more money," Jablon said.

In 2002, a labor dispute did shut down all West Coast ports for 11 days, costing the U.S. economy $10 billion.