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Why it's taking so long to get goods off cargo ships and onto store shelves

Dock workers detail logjam at ports
Dock workers detail logjam at ports 02:41

To truly understand the supply chain logjam, you have to start at the docks, where dock workers say there is a major lack of space to store containers coming off the cargo ships. 

"Because there is no space in the yard, there is not that much we can offload," said local union president, Ramon Ponce de Leon. He represents the 14,000 longshoremen at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

A ship that normally holds about 5,000 containers would typically have four or five big cranes unloading as fast as possible. When CBS News visited, there were two cranes. 

Crane operator Ricky McCray said he could easily unload the ships faster if there was somewhere to put the containers. He said his container count is down more than 20% because of having to slow the unloading process due to lack of space. 

"I feel like I'm the bad guy first of all, but I tell them, 'We're doing our part. We're doing our best,'" he said in response to criticism directed at dock workers. 

There aren't more trucks lining up to pick up the goods because "they don't have a place to put it because the container has become the warehouse with just-in-time delivery," Ponce de Leon said.

Just-in-time delivery is a cost-cutting strategy to import merchandise only as needed, reducing the need for warehouse space. It backfired with pandemic shutdowns. The trucks that are arriving at the ports come for specific containers that are sometimes located in the middle of the pile, making it like a giant game of Jenga. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that ships are coming to get some of the empty containers out of the way. He's also looking for vacant lots to store containers that still need to be picked up, so the longshoremen have room to do their jobs. 

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