By Aaron Waldron
This will likely be the most political article that you ever read on LiveRC, but there are some big-time problems in the U.S. right now that could have disastrous implications for the RC industry - and it’s already affecting your ability to buy parts and kits at hobby shops in your hometown and on the Internet.
On Monday, the Pacific Maritime Association lifted a weekend shutdown of 29 ports along the West Coast. The shutdown was the latest volley in a back-and-forth negotiation with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, as the two parties attempt to reach a new labor contract.
According to USA Today, members of dockworker unions are among the highest paid industrial employees in the nation. The Pacific Maritime Association says the average longshoreman earns $147,000 a year. Last week, the association proposed a five-year contract that included full health care, a 3% raise in wages, and up to $88,800 in annual retirement benefits.
The choice of the terminal operators’ association came in response to the ongoing 14-week dockworker slowdown facilitated by the union, as each side tries to prove to the other just how important the party represents to the decision. As unionized dockworkers slowed their pace in an attempt to gain leverage for the Union’s side of the contract dispute, ports along the West Coast became gridlocked with containers of items that hadn’t yet been unloaded. This left nowhere for the contents of cargo ships bringing items from all over the world, many as long as 1000 feet and packed with containers arranged like lego bricks.
That’s when the port owners decided to close out newly arrived ships, as association spokesman Wade Gates said, “after three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay more for less work.”
With the ships sitting idly in the water, many of the ports had acres of asphalt sitting available, but the five busiest locations - Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Long Beach - still had cargo backed up as late as Sunday as the dock workers were busy catching up on the work they had allowed to stack due to the Union slowdown.
The National Retail Federation says that a complete shutdown of West Coast ports could starve the U.S. economy to the tune of $2 billion dollars per day. Not only are goods such as cars, electronics, and clothing affected, so is the importation of building materials from Asia - as well as the sale American agricultural exports.
Of course, with the increased cooperation between U.S. and Asian manufacturers and retailers, such a shutdown could be a disaster for the RC industry. Kits and items that are manufactured overseas, as well as the raw ingredients that companies in the U.S. use to make their products stateside, are all potentially affected.
While the earthquake and tsunami that both hit Tokyo in 2011 both significantly affected many RC brands with offices in Japan, the industry as a whole was fortunately spared from potentially serious setbacks. Regardless of who you are, or which side of this dispute you tend to support, the problems between port owners and the unions who represent their employees could have dire consequences not only for our hobby industry, but the entire nation.
If you’ve been scourging the Internet wondering why you haven’t been able to find that new kit you’re looking for, or can’t seem to locate parts to fix up your vehicle ahead of this summer’s racing season, now you know.
For more of Michael Kelley's incredible photos of the Port of Los Angeles, click here.