Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

With operations slowly returning to normal at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex after a labor dispute that left a backlog of ships in the harbor, port officials say they have contingency plans ready to avert more problems if the Department of Homeland Security is forced to shut down.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road before with sequestration and other congressional up-to-the-last-minute deadline situations,” Port of Long Beach Director of Security Randy Parsons told City News Service. “So we do have some experience with this. I can say we’re in communication with our federal partners. … We have contingency plans in place. We know what they’re going to be able to do and (how) they may have to alter their operations a little bit.”

Parsons and Phillip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said harbor officials are keeping in contact with the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection so they are prepared for any negative impacts if the DHS funding debate isn’t resolved in Congress.

“From what we understand, the Coast Guard will maintain normal operations with minimal impact,” Sanfield told CNS.

Customs and Border Protection agents who inspect the cargo being brought into the port have been “working ahead” as much as they can, but they might experience some personnel shortages if a stalemate occurs, he said.

“We’re hoping the impact is minimum and that they’re able to keep things flowing,” Sanfield said. ” … They still intend to move cargo and inspect cargo. They may be a little shorthanded.”

The movement of cargo at the port complex — and at ports all along the West Coast — was significantly slowed during the lengthy labor dispute between dockworkers and port employers.

For at least two weekends during the dispute, port employers ordered a halt to vessel operations, accusing the dockworkers’ union of intentionally slowing their work pace, leaving ships languishing at sea, unable to dock.

The union vehemently denied such a move.

A tentative labor deal was reached last Friday, signaling an end to the dispute.

Parsons noted that due to the labor dispute, port security officials have “already been in a period of heightened awareness because of all the vessels we’ve got sitting off shore here.”

“I’ve got a great view out of my office, and on a normal day I’m looking out at maybe six vessels,” he said. “Today I’m looking out at 19, and that’s (just) all that I can see out of my window.”

Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, warned earlier this week that if an agreement is not reached on funding for the agency, grants to local public-safety agencies will be suspended and some DHS employees will be furloughed.

About 80 percent of the workforce will still report for duty, with uncertainty about when they might get paid, Johnson said.

Melvin Carraway, acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, which operates security checkpoints at airports, said most of the agency’s employees will continue coming to work “without receiving a paycheck for that work until the shutdown ends.”

“As a counter-terrorism organization, our dedicated and professional workforce will — in the event of a shutdown — continue to secure our nation’s transportation systems, without pay, just as they did during the government shutdown of 2013,” Carraway wrote in an online blog. “Over 90 percent of our workforce — that’s about 50,000 employees — would continue to report to duty.”

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, warned Wednesday that millions of dollars in DHS grants for public-safety agencies in California will be disrupted if the department is forced to shut down. She released an extensive list of agencies that have received grant funding, including the Santa Monica Fire Department, city of Pasadena, Huntington Beach Fire Department and cities of Compton and West Covina.

Parsons echoed that concern, saying DHS grant workers are considered non- essential personnel and would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown, meaning delays in processing grant applications and doling out funds. He said those grants “fund a lot of operations within the ports.”

“That’s something that we haven’t seen before, so on a grants side, it will be interesting to see how this shapes up, particularly if the stoppage goes on for any length of time,” Parsons told CNS. “A few days to a week can dramatically impact the security of the maritime environment.”

City News Service

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