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Port Preps for Occupy Portland Work Stoppage

by Erik Siemers
Portland Business Journal, December 9, 2011

The Port of Portland on Friday said as many as five vessels carrying regional exports, several ongoing construction projects and regular truck and rail operations could be disrupted should Occupy Portland succeed in spurring a work stoppage at the port Monday.

Branches of the Occupy Wall Street movement are targeting major West Coast ports on Monday to show solidarity with recent struggles among laborers at ports in Longview, Wash., and Los Angeles.

Occupy Portland is planning a 6 a.m. rally at Kelley Point Park, situated between the port's Terminals 5 and 6, followed by another 4 p.m. meetup at the park to cover the afternoon shift change.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union International has been vocal in its opposition to the protest, with union leadership sending a memo to its 15,000 longshore members last month making clear that it rejects third-party calls for job actions that haven't been sanctioned by its officers or voted on by its members.

Despite those protestations, Occupy Portland organizers on Friday expressed certainty that the union's rank-in-file will choose not to cross their picket line.

"We understand that unions have legal restrictions on them that means they cannot in any way be a part of this action," said Kari Koch, an organizer with Occupy Portland's "Shut Down the Ports" working group. "But we have been talking with rank-and-file at ports twice a day every day for the last 10 days. We've been getting a lot of positive feedback."

Port of Portland spokesman Josh Thomas said port officials are monitoring developments in concert with local law enforcement "to ensure the public safety of those working there at the marine terminals."

At the same time, Thomas said the port is unclear as to why the Port of Portland is a target.

While the Occupy Wall Street movement in principal has targeted the nation's one percent -- as in the wealthiest Americans -- Thomas noted that 88 percent of the port's exporters are small- and medium-sized businesses.

The port and its partners, Thomas said, support more than 12,000 jobs attributable to marine activities.

"If their issues are with the 1 percent and the Goldman Sachs' of the world, you might be able to find a tenuous connection there, but it's a stretch at best," Thomas said. "Why are you striking at the heart of where the 99 percent are working?"

Koch, however, said the Port of Portland does have at least one tie to the 1 percent, tenuous or not.

The Shut Down the Ports movement has noted two recent labor actions in which it stands in solidarity. One is the showdown this fall between the ILWU and EGT Development LLC -- operator of a new grain terminal at the Port of Longview, Wash. -- over whether the union has jurisdiction to work the port.

The other, Koch said, is ongoing struggles in California between port laborers and SSA Marine, a terminal operator in which Goldman Sachs is reportedly a majority shareholder.

SSA, Koch said, has dock operations at the Port of Portland.

Thomas confirmed that SSA has one dock within the port, but on a contract basis. It owns no real estate within the port, he said.

The Shut Down the Ports movement is expected to stretch throughout the West Coast. In addition to Portland, actions are planned in Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Tacoma, and Anchorage, Alaska.

Koch said the group recently got word that Houston is also participating, as well as land-locked Denver and Salt Lake City.

Erik Siemers
Port Preps for Occupy Portland Work Stoppage
Portland Business Journal, December 9, 2011

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