Ports Slowdown Hurts Local Businesses | KUOW News and Information

Ports Slowdown Hurts Local Businesses

Feb 17, 2015

United States Labor Secretary Tom Perez sat down Tuesday with both sides in the labor dispute that’s slowed down shipping at 29 West Coast ports. The two sides are stuck on a disagreement over how to handle disputes. The protracted slowdown has begun to hurt some local businesses. 


Laton: "I'm gonna rip open this bag, give you an idea what it looks like."

Cassady Laton rips apart a plastic coffee-bean bag and tears off a little plastic valve.

There are at least four other manufacturers making valves for coffee bags. As Pacific Bags' smaller customers are hit by increased lead times on custom jobs, Laton says some of them are looking at other manufacturers. So far, he's managed to keep them by paying some of the cost to ship small batches of product by air so they can get by until the larger orders (waiting on ships) can be unloaded.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Laton: "The goal of this valve is that it’s a one-way valve. CO2 causes it to, essentially, burp to open. And then it re-seats itself. If you get any kind of particulate jammed in there, you create a two-way valve. Essentially, a hole in the bag. And you don’t want to do that."

Under Laton’s watch, a handful of machines at Pacific Bag, Inc., in Woodinville crank out 120 million of these plastic valves every year. Laton ships those valves to Taiwan where they’re installed in coffee bags. Then he ships them back. So the port slowdown hits him coming and going.

Laton has been answering tough questions from clients lately. Especially clients with small, custom jobs. They want to know why their shipments are so late. They ask him: "When am I gonna get it? The boat's docked, right? When am I gonna get it?"

Laton says he doesn’t have solid answers for them. 

Laton: "If they can’t get packaging from us to put their product in it and put it out on the shelf, they can’t make their money."

Laton has kept his customers satisfied by sending them small shipments by air. But that’s expensive. Then the customer calls him up and says: "OK, great, you air shipped me 'x' amount to get me through. When’s it going to end that we don’t need to do that?"

He says he doesn’t know how to answer: "The reality is, I don’t know."

And it’s the not knowing that bothers Laton the most. So far, he’s lost less than 10 percent of his revenue during the slowdown. He can absorb it, as long as it ends soon.