California ports are by far the busiest of any state, handling about 40% of all containerized cargo that enters the U.S. The Port of Oakland, the sixth-largest U.S. container port, handled nearly 1.1 million 20-foot equivalent unit import containers in 2021, the most in its 94-year history. It exported another million containers.
The Port of Oakland is the economic engine that drives Northern California, exporting produce from the Central Valley, wine from Napa and Sonoma valleys, and computers and other electronic devices from Silicon Valley. On the import side, it receives cargo from Asia, mainly China. It provides 84,000 jobs in its logistic chain. At the nexus point of this global trade are port longshore workers who load and discharge the ships 24/7 throughout even the deadliest phases of the pandemic.
Despite doing that onerous, and often dangerous work, a worldwide supply chain backup has occurred, in part due to increased demand for imports. The supply chain has never been tasked with moving more cargo than now. Container-handling equipment is in short supply. Workers are pushed to the limit, and higher costs and delays are plaguing the system. Distribution between the docks and inland warehouses is problematic because of the lack of truck drivers and chassis to cover an around-the-clock operation. Added to this conundrum is a critical lack of marine terminal container space to stack containers.