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Red-Hot Cooling-Off Period

Ports: Terminal operators are working around the clock to clear the docks of a mountain of cargo.

October 12, 2002|DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Jeffrey Burgin, the West Coast port lockout was the perfect storm.

It swept in two weeks ago and halted work at the four cargo facilities run by Burgin for Pasha Stevedoring & Terminals. Stranded on Pasha's docks in the Port of Los Angeles were newsprint, hundreds of containers packed with consumer goods and 100,000 tons of steel bound for Fontana.

Their towering cranes and forklifts idle, about all Pasha employees could do for the 10-day port closure was catch up on e-mail and clear their backlogs of paperwork.

Not anymore. It's been 16-hour days for Burgin since the management lockout of the ports ended Wednesday under a federal court order.

On Friday, two rail locomotives were hauling away about a dozen flat cars loaded with thick rolls of steel plate. The train screeched and banged as it slowly pulled away from the Pasha terminal in Wilmington.

One unloaded vessel had departed, but six ships remained offshore ready to deliver overdue cargo.

"You have to wear several different hats down here," said Burgin, a senior vice president for Pasha. "Today I am wearing a hat of gratification for getting a vessel out. It's good to see movement and action down here."

Pasha, whose parent company is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, is one of almost 50 terminal operations in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

With 137 acres in Los Angeles harbor, Pasha is small compared with shipping giants such as APL and Maersk Sealand, which own cargo vessels and terminals around the world.

Since the lockout ended, Burgin has started his day shortly after 6 a.m., an hour or two earlier than normal.

He talks to harbor officials and terminal operators to get an idea how work is proceeding around the port.

He also contacts customers, corporate headquarters and the Pacific Maritime Assn., the industry trade group, for its take on the pace of cargo operations.

After 10:30 a.m., he helps to assess the terminal's need for dockworkers and reviews financial statements and monthly cargo volumes. In the afternoon, the routine repeats itself.

If cargo is arriving, Burgin also oversees plans to unload vessels.

In the early evening, he says, he heads home to Huntington Beach, his ear glued to his cell phone for work-related calls.

But the pressure doesn't let up until about 10 p.m.

"Then I can catch up on my e-mails and say hello to my family," said the 45-year-old Burgin, who has two daughters.

On Friday, the departure of the unloaded cargo ship hardly dents the backlog of work for Pasha.

Six overdue vessels are stuck behind dozens of other vessels that arrived before them during the lockout. No harbor pilots are available to bring them in.

Aboard are more than 300,000 tons of steel that could overwhelm Pasha's terminal.

Burgin and his staff are pushing trucking companies to pick up their freight ASAP.

Burgin says those efforts are succeeding, but other terminal operators may not be so lucky.

Although the ports are working around the clock, some customers are taking cargo only during weekday business hours.

Yet the veteran terminal manager is optimistic that his company will be busy for the rest of the year.

"There will be a Christmas after all," he said.

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