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Dockworker slowdowns on West Coast affecting some Arizona businesses, industries

PHOENIX — Despite rumors that a deal had possibly been reached between union representatives and shipping executives on the West Coast, a labor slowdown at 29 docks and ports remains without an end in sight.

The slowdown is leaving many cargo ships idly floating just off shore, sitting with millions of products untouched in their freight containers.

The inability to move those products is having an affect on businesses across the country, including in Arizona.

The owner of North Mountain Brewing Company near 7th Street and Dunlap Avenue said he has had to wait patiently for orders and supplies while the two sides work out a deal.

“Oh, we’ve absolutely been affected,” said Rob Berkner, the brewery’s owner and head brewer.

Berkner said he’s been waiting weeks for a shipment of between 50 and 70 torpedoes — which are kegs that are about one-sixth of the size of normal kegs — that have been stuck on a ship just off the California coast.

“We’ve had some kegs that we ordered months ago that have, for like two or three weeks now, been sitting in a boat off of Long Beach,” he said. “Just sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting.”

Berkner said his business is expanding, and that not having the kegs has made it difficult to sell his beer around town.

“A lot of people want the smaller kegs because they don’t have a lot of space under their bar. And by getting the smaller kegs, they can fit three (varieties) of beer where you could only do one,” he said.

The torpedoes are also good for keeping any residual amounts of beer during the brewing process that might not fill up a full-sized keg, Berkner said. Without them, those residual gallons are discarded.

“The smaller keg will let us potentially save, on average, 5 gallons of beer per batch,” he said. “Who wants to see 5 gallons of beer go down the drain? I know I don’t like to see it.”

Besides kegs, Berkner said what’s more concerning is the possibly of running out of grain to even make his product.

North Mountain Brewing Company purchases grain from wholesalers such as BSG Craft and The Country Malt Group, and while the supply of grain those wholesalers stock often varies, Berkner said he’s typically only without one or two types of grain at most.

However, with the slowdown on the West Coast, Berkner said he’s been having to work around and find substitutes for five types of grain.

“It’s never been as bad as this last order where, like I said, there were five grains I couldn’t get,” he said. “I’m usually buying an extra bag of everything to stock up, but with five out, I’m really concerned.”

Berkner said if the slowdown continues, he might not be able to brew some types of beer until well after it gets resolved.

The slowdown has had a broader impact on other industries as well, from clothing and electronics to manufacturing and logistics, according to Yahoo! Finance.

Francisco Castillo, director of public relations and communication at Union Pacific said in an email that “the deterioration of productivity at West Coast ports is impacting our volume early in the first quarter.”

Castillo also wrote Union Pacific expects it to be a “headwind” as long as the labor negotiations continue.

If negotiations fall through and workers move to strike, some economists expect a shutdown to cost the U.S. economy nearly $2 billion per day, which could make for a difficult start to the year for companies that rely on the goods from the congested ports.