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Texas Trucker Witnesses Supply Chain Stall in California Ports

Business, Featured, National

Congestion at ports in California. | Image by Beatrice de Gea, Los Angeles Times

In the 31 years that Tom Kelly has worked in the trucking industry, he has never seen anything quite like it. During the pandemic, Kelly is being paid three times the amount he used to for the transportation of cargo from Texas to the Los Angeles port and back.

“As an owner-operator, it’s getting real lucrative,” Kelly told Dallas Express. “A broker might skim a couple thousand dollars off the top and then give me $9,000.”

Kelly is paid more than top dollar to transport arbitrary goods like toilet paper, electric pianos, peanuts, and mattresses, due to supply chains that are backed from the nationwide effects of COVID-19.

“From Texas, I might drive to Memphis, Tennessee and from Memphis, Tennessee, I might have a load that takes me out to California and then I’ll snatch a load coming back from California because it doesn’t pay me to go into California,” said Kelly who lives in San Antonio. “It pays me to come out of California.”

But Kelly can only travel back and forth to Los Angeles once a week because of the time it takes to complete the drive.

“Twenty-four hundred miles is a lot of miles, and you have only 70 hours and 14 hours a day,” he said.

Los Angeles and Long Beach are not the only ports that are backed up.

“When I go to Galveston to transport bananas, it might be a two to three-hour wait before you get loaded,” Kelly said in an interview. “They’re backed up all over the place.”

Last week when he was at the Los Angeles port, Kelly saw some 60 ships floating on the water just waiting to unload.

“There’s a lot of ships out there and long lines for truckers to get into the port,” he said. “Everybody is using the pandemic as an excuse to not work so hard, or they are just not showing up to work because they don’t want the vaccine.”

Port workers in Los Angeles and Long Beach are considered frontline workers and were prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine so that the ports could continue to operate, according to media reports.

“Just to hook up to the trailer, I waited four hours,” Kelly said. “The port never closes. It’s just access to get into the port that’s a problem. You’re only able to get in there between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. because the workers are unionized, and they are just not going to work one minute past 5 o’clock if they don’t have to.”

According to Kelly, contributing to the supply chain backlog is also some of the regulatory requirements imposed by California making many truck drivers unwilling to drive through the state.

“You would have a lot more truckers willing to go out there if it weren’t for the California EPA that has so many truck restrictions,” Kelly added. “You are required to go through the scales out there, and they are very nitpicky. You are required to stay in the right lane at 55 miles an hour. Something that’s fairly simple, such as a light out, will put you out of service in California. Someone who owns a 1999 tractor-trailer might get fined in California, and nobody wants to go buy a brand-new trailer to go out to California.”