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New York Ports See Record Cargo Volume in 2015

When the West Coast’s labor woes sent cargo into the arms of other ports, New York and New Jersey benefitted, and set a new cargo volume record.

The East Coast’s busiest port took in 10 percent more cargo last year than when it set its previous volume record in 2014. Total 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) handled in 2015 were 6,371,720.

“The Port of New York and New Jersey played a critical role in ensuring merchandise needed by American consumers arrived on store shelves when the West Coast ports faced their issues with labor and congestion,” the National Retail Federation’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy, Jonathan Gold, said. “The significant increase in cargo volumes at the port indicate the cargo shifts as a result of those issues.”

Vehicles handled at the port increased 21.5% to 477,170 units, up from 392,704 in 2014.

The port’s ship-to-rail system, ExpressRail, also experienced record-volume, handling 522,244 containers, 12.2% more than the prior year. More than $600 million was invested in the system to help address the need for on-dock rail to improve port efficiency and reduce emissions. Despite the additional cargo for the year, the New York and New Jersey port still managed to reduce port emissions, and has cut them by a total of 33 percent since 2006.

Vessel calls were down 7.4% year over year, indicating that most cargo is coming in on bigger ships, a trend the port said it expects to continue after the Bayonne Bridge project completion (the 85-year-old bridge is being raised to allow larger container vessels to pass under it to reach marine terminals), which is slated for the end of 2017.

A booming port also meant more jobs. The port presently generates 336,600 full-time jobs, and that number is up 13 percent over 2012, according to the New York Shipping Association.

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“Increasing the size of our labor force over the past two years and the associated training required to handle the growth is paying dividends,” said John Nardi, president of the New York Shipping Association. “Growing the volume allows us to keep our unit cost on a downward trajectory which makes the port more competitive.”

Adding to that, Port Authority port commerce director Molly Campbell said, “We want to be the best maritime gateway in the United States and these impressive numbers show we are making progress to achieve that goal. However, she said, “For us to efficiently handle the larger ships and cargo volumes that want to come here, we must join with our stakeholders to continue to implement strategies to improve port performance.” And part of that means improving labor issues because the East Coast port hasn’t been without its own labor problems.

Port activity stalled on Friday, Jan. 29, when longshoremen walked off the job over a labor dispute, reportedly over concern that the Waterfront Commission was interfering in a collective bargaining agreement between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the New York Shipping Association.

Activity was restored by the following day but traffic was backed up and some trucks were temporarily restricted from entering gates.

As Campbell added in discussing the port’s goals for the year, “We also need to maintain labor harmony in the port to ensure future growth and we will work closely with the New York Shipping Association, International Longshoremen’s Association and other stakeholders to prevent a recurrence of the one-day labor walkout late last month.”