One shipping analyst calls the congestion at ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach the "worst-ever on record."
For months, both shippers and longshoremen have accused each other of intentionally slowing operations to gain leverage in contract negotiations that began last May. Congestion was already building due to more ships, larger ships and a lack of maintained truck trailers to move cargo off the docks.
However, gridlock intensified in November. The Pacific Maritime Assocation, which represents employers, claimed longshoremen began holding back crews after Halloween in order to pressure employers, while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing dockworkers, claimed the opposite, saying that employers are asking for only half the normal work crews.
CNBC visited a dispatch hall—where jobs come in from employers and dispatchers hand them out to union members—to try to determine who is right. Dispatchers are union members who work with management.
The visit raised more questions than answers.
"I haven't really seen anything change," said Ray Pearson, records clerk at the dispatch hall. When pressed on whether he had seen any reduction either in jobs posted or the number of union members willing and able to fill those jobs, he replied, "I am not aware of any slowdown on anybody's part."