Since the pandemic started to wane, Americans have been on an extraordinary buying spree. One measure of this is the daily tally of container ships idling outside the congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — the entry point for about 40 percent of goods imported into the US.

The queue of ships stacked high with brightly-coloured containers reached a record of 73 anchored container ships on September 19 and by last weekend still stretched as far as the eye could see — frustrating retailers and becoming a national symbol of an outdated and overwhelmed US supply chain.

The ports’ longtime inability to match the round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week operations of their Asian counterparts has been a source of frustration for transportation officials in President Joe Biden’s administration, which this week unveiled a series of measures to ease the congestion at the western hemisphere’s largest port complex — and keep the US economic recovery on track.

The White House said it had secured pledges from private sector heavyweights such as Walmart, UPS and FedEx to extend their working hours. Crucially, it also won commitments from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to add shifts and move toward a 24/7 work schedule at its operations in southern California.