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Labor Battle Drops Productivity 47 Percent at Portland Port Facility

Friday, January 30, 2015

 

Labor disruptions by the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union at the Port have slowed normal production by almost 50 percent for one terminal, according to the operator ICTSI Oregon. 

The ILWU’s contract with the Pacific Maritime Association ended on July 1, 2014. Although union members continue to work, contract negotiations continue and terminal operators claim that longshoreman have orchestrated work slowdowns at ports in California, Oregon and Washington. 

For the 2014 holiday season, the union workers in Portland participated in 36 work stoppages and slowdowns at Terminal 6, according to ICTSI Oregon Inc., the company that oversees operations for the site. 

Slowdown efforts have continued into 2015, including a 12 hour work stoppage on Jan. 27. According to ICTSI Oregon estimates, productivity of workers at Terminal 6 has dropped to 13.2 moves per hour, close to a 47 percent reduction from the historic level of 24.8 moves per hour.  

“No doubt about it, Portland is a little different and a little more contentious between the local 8 [ILWU] and employers in that town,” said Jim Tessier, a labor consultant who has worked alongside the ILWU for decades.  He said the tensions between the ILWU and ICTSI Oregon are especially present in Portland. 

Terminal 6

Terminal 6 is the sole international shipping container terminal in Oregon, serving clients such as Hanjin Shipping.  

Oregon ICTS is part of International Container Services Inc. based in the Philippians.  ICTSI Oregon representative and attorney Michael Garone said the ILWU has escalated delay tactics lately more in Portland than other ports, due to disputes in the past. 

Although Tessier said that dealing with a labor dispute with longshoreman can be a minefield, it’s important to understand them. 

“People who have trouble with longshoreman don’t understand how to deal with them,” Tessler said. “If you want him to do it, don’t tell him because he won’t do it. But if you ask, he will do anything for you. They are big hearted and generous.” 

On Dec. 16, a federal judge found ILWU in contempt of court for slowing down work productivity at Terminal 6 with work stoppages and slowdowns in 2012 and 2013. No fines were issued, but the judge ordered the union to comply and pay attorney fees. 

However, ICTSI Oregon has a record of its own. In April 2014, Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company’s Portland operations $18,360 on over a dozen safety violations, including having workers operate machinery without proper safety equipment. 

Contract Negotiations

On Jan. 26, labor negotiators made some ground in a key part of the dispute—assigning jobs of inspecting chassis. However, wages and pensions are still on the table. 

As contract talks wear on, ICTSI Oregon is worried the effects will impact the port economically. 

“[Terminal 6] is a powerful economic engine to the region that offers significant benefits to thousands of ‎businesses, workers and consumers,” ICTSI Oregon said in a media statement. “For the sake of the state’s long-term economic well-being, ICTSI Oregon, ‎Inc. strongly encourages the ILWU to end its work stoppages, slowdowns and labor shortages, ‎and increase port productivity to historical levels.‎” 

ILWU spokes person Jennifer Sargent said the Union had no comment at this time. 

Labor relations specialists Cabot Dow said in his experience with longshoreman in Washington, unions usually use what they can do ensure their needs are met. 

“They are primarily using leverage to protect benefits they had in their contracts and protecting the work they have for the ports,” Dow said. 

Whatever the disagreements are between the union and employer, Dow said it is crucial for the two sides to work together.

“They need to function as partners, and get the employer and the union on the same page to make sure customers are getting served,” Dow said. 

 

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