Disputed Reefer Jobs Back in Play as Port of
by Mike Francis
Nine months after the Port of Portland awarded two hotly disputed jobs at the Port's Terminal 6 to members of the longshore union, the Port has taken them back.
In a letter sent Friday to Mike Stanton, president of Local 8 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt said the Port was terminating the contract with longshore workers because of their low productivity.
"The extremely low productivity at T6 remains unacceptable and negatively impacts all of the people whose livelihood is connected with working at or providing services to T6 and those who depend on the facility to efficiently ship products worldwide," the letter read, in part.
The letter was accompanied by a bar chart showing declines in the number of crane moves per hour since the the jobs were awarded to the longshore workers in December.
Read the letter: Reefer work reassignment.pdf
In a Friday night statement, ILWU spokesperson Jennifer Sargent blasted the Port's letter.
"Productivity at the ICTSI facility is directly related to ICTSI's irresponsible and incompetent management. Nothing more," she wrote, referring to the terminal operated by International Container Services Oregon Inc., a subsidiary of a Philippine conglomerate. "A big part of the problem is the Port's blind support of ICTSI."
The decision by the Port to terminate the contract may reopen one of the most bitterly contested local labor questions of the last two years: Do the jobs of plugging in and unplugging refrigerated containers, or reefers, belong to the Port's workers in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or to longshore union workers?
The battle over the equivalent of two jobs at Terminal 6 caused slowdowns that led shippers to avoid the Port of Portland and Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co. to say it was considering ending its calls at Portland. After former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal between the unions, the Port in December awarded the jobs to the longshore workers after the electrical workers gave their consent.
"At the end of the day we have to rise above our parochial interests and look to the bigger picture and do what's in the best interests of everyone," Gary Young, IBEW Local 48 business manager, said at the time.
Late Friday, Gov. John Kitzhaber said through a spokesperson he supports the Port's decision to terminate its contract with the longshore union for the reefer jobs.
"The Port of Portland, ICTSI, and IBEW have all made good faith compromises to find middle ground and bring productivity back to Terminal 6. ILWU has not," the governor said in an emailed statement. "Despite efforts to meet ILWU more than halfway, Oregon continues to have a container terminal on the brink of losing international service because of endless slow-downs, job actions, and conflict. Oregon businesses large and small are paying the price, when what they really need is a productive and competitive container terminal."
Elvis Ganda, president of ICTSI Oregon, said he, too, supports the Port's decision to end the contract with the ILWU.
"Since the labor dispute arose in June of 2012, the level of efficiency at the container terminal has not been equal to that of other West Coast container terminals," Ganda said in a written statement Saturday morning. "We can understand why the Port acted at this time as production levels continue to steadily decline. We hope the Port's decision leads to a positive response."
In May, a National Labor Relations Board judge found the longshore workers had conducted deliberate slowdowns at Terminal 6 between September 2012 and June 2013. When the Port sought to conduct an analysis of diminished productivity at Terminal 6 in March, the ILWU refused to participate, calling the analysis requested by the governor "a sham."
The decision by the Port to terminate the contract for the reefer jobs comes at a time of great labor uncertainty at West Coast ports and the Ports of Portland and Vancouver in particular.
The ILWU said it would announce results Monday of a vote by union members to accept or reject a tentative contract agreement with three grain-handling companies. If accepted, that would end a protracted dispute that has caused congestion and delays for grain shipments out of the Port of Vancouver's United Grain terminal.
At the same time, talks continue between longshore workers and the operators of 29 western ports. The talks between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association are to replace a contract that expired this summer. The sides have agreed to keep cargo traffic moving as talks continue.
Hanjin Shipping said in March it would continue to call in Portland, after the Port of Portland offered incentive payments to keep traffic flowing.
Note: This story has been updated from Friday night to include responses from the ILWU and the governor's office, and to provide more background.
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