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Watching fruit rot

Published by The Economist on Fri, 30 Jan 2015

ON JANUARY 22nd KFC announced that its Japanese stores faced a shortage of potatoes. McDonald's, too, rationed fries in Japan in December, despite an 'emergency' airlift of nearly 1,000 tonnes of spuds. The cause in both cases: massive delays at America's West Coast ports.Cargo is piling up inside the terminals. Exporters and importers are bleeding cash. The North American Meat Institute says delays are costing meat and poultry producers $30m a week. Chelan Fresh Marketing, a Washington fruit supplier, has laid off a fifth of its workforce. It is 'a huge mess,' says Jon Wyss, Chelan's head of government affairs.The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents port operators, is battling the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The two groups have worked without a contract since July. The PMA says the union is co-ordinating a slowdown. By limiting the availability of skilled workers such as crane operators, the union has quietly created a bottleneck. 'It's like putting a football team of 11 guys out on the field, but not one of them is a quarterback,' says a spokesman for the PMA. The union denies it, arguing that the bottleneck is caused by larger ships and a near-record volume of goods.If workers formally go on strike, they lose their wages. An informal go-slow imposes no such hardship. Hence its...Continue reading
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