This week, more than 80 giant cargo ships wait off the coast of Southern California for a place to dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That's more than half a million containers packed with goods Americans have ordered – snarled in an epic traffic jam no one seems able to untangle.
It's exposed deep flaws in America's supply chain – a web of problems that have saddled the country with product shortages, backlogs and higher prices. Nowhere are the problems more evident than on the shipping routes from Asia. The volume of goods glutting West Coast ports has shattered records, swamping the ports. There's no shortage of finger pointing at who's to blame as the containers pile up on the docks.
Bill Whitaker reports from the docks at Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, for a report to be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT on CBS.
With inflation the highest in years, and the holidays fast approaching, there's a flurry of plans to break the logjam. Gene Seroka, who runs the Los Angeles port, says starting Monday he'll fine the shipping lines for any cargo that sits on the docks for more than nine days. And last month, President Joe Biden announced the ports had agreed to work round-the-clock. But it hasn't had much effect.
Gene Seroka: "We typically work about 19 hours a day here," Seroka says to Whitaker in an excerpt of Sunday's report that aired Thursday on "CBS Mornings." "It's that 3 to 8 a.m. shift that we've added and tried to get others to work with us during those times as well."
"So you might be working 24/7 but the warehouses are not," Whitaker says. "And they have no place for these goods to go after they get off the ship at 3 a.m.?"
"And there, you've just diagnosed the problem. The cargo has nowhere to go," Seroka says. "We gotta get a workforce in the warehouses and the trucking industry that are complementary to all this cargo that's coming in right now."
"There is a lot of finger-pointing," Whitaker says. "The truckers blame the terminals, the terminals blame the shippers, the retailers blame the truckers and the shippers. How do you get that contentious group to sit at the table and actually clear out the backlog?"
"That's been the toughest part," Seroka says. "We haven't moved the needle yet, but it's not for lack of trying. We're just going to have to double down."