California’s state officials have a bold approach to solving major problems. The governor of California, Gavin Newsom is an example. Gavin Newsom and his progressive allies believe our state can pass labor laws that revamp the economy, provide affordable healthcare for all residents and even change the trajectory of the Earth’s climate by shifting the economy toward a carbon-free future.
In his 2019 State of the State address, Newsom boasted that there’s virtually nothing that our state can’t accomplish—from meeting the needs of devalued workers to providing quality housing for everyone to restoring fragile ecosystems—provided we are willing to “think bigger.” Newsom said the problems were difficult, but he also stated that “I believe we have all the tools” to tackle them.
Newsom isn’t equipped to deal with the huge obstacle facing the economy. I’m referring, of course, to the bottleneck at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle 40 percent of the cargo shipped into the United States. Container ships typically pull in ports and unload quickly before heading to sea.
Shipping companies had to scale back their production at the start of the pandemic. However, demand unexpectedly soared. “Warehouses struggled to hire enough workers to keep up with the demand and they started getting backed up,” according to a recent CalMatters report.
Currently, 111 container ships are idling off the coast of Los Angeles—far surpassing the historically worst backlog of 17. In addition to disrupting world commerce and driving inflation, the chaos is causing environmental damage—something that should concern an environmentally focused governor.
“The ships are pumping out pollutants as they idle, clogging the air with smoke,” The New York Times reported. One of their anchors could have been responsible for the oil spillage off the Orange County coast. Newsom, where are you?
Actually, that’s been a titillating news story for the past two weeks after he disappeared from public view without explanation—something that led to wild social-media speculation when he canceled his trip to an international climate summit in Scotland. The governor reemerged and spoke out about his desire to spend more quality time with his children at Halloween.
That’s fine, as governors have family obligations (although he should have announced his hiatus at the outset). However, where’s his administration? Southern California News Group had a meeting recently with representatives from retailing, business and agriculture industries. These representatives expressed frustration over the governor’s inability to be responsive.
They believe economic and agricultural issues appear to be at the bottom of Newsom’s priority list, which is a recurring theme in his governorship. Rob Lapsley from the California Business Roundtable stated that the governor is sensitive to labor issues and “he’sn’t hurrying into it” because of this. Perhaps it is time for Newsom’s rapid-response team to be formed, as there are immediate steps he can take.
Nearly a month ago, business organizations called on the governor to, among other things, declare a state of emergency at the ports, delay implementation of a law that bans labor quotas at warehouses (Assembly Bill 701), and suspend the controversial labor law (Assembly Bill 5) that requires truck drivers to be employees of trucking firms rather than owner operators.
Port logjam is a result of backlogs in warehouses and shortages among truckers. However, these union-backed measures have hampered the ability of the industry to process cargo. And as early as Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a California Trucking Association lawsuit challenging AB 5 on interstate-commerce grounds.
If the high court rebukes the truckers and suspends the injunction that is halting implementation of AB 5 in the trucking industry, it will mean at least 80 percent of the drivers who are unloading containers no longer may operate in California. Don’t think that we face a port crisis right now.
Newsom will say he already took action. In October, he signed an executive order “to ease supply chain issues by engaging the diverse network of stakeholders.” This executive order is lacking substance. He also made the decision to permit higher stacks and seek additional state property to store containers.
The business letter explains that the supply chain crisis is caused in part by “state, regional and local mandates forced upon every aspect of the goods movement economy.” The government could suspend or evaluate many rules—if it wants to do so.
Six union-allied legislators also sent in a letter to Newsom slamming the business groups’ proposals. They say instead that we should address supply chain problems and find solutions to them from our next surplus. Is that really what it means?
The state government believes that it is capable of accomplishing almost anything, but in reality the government seems powerless. Perhaps Newsom doesn’t want to do anything because the real solutions will anger his union and environmental allies.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.