Portland Executive Port Director Bill Wyatt said the port will not use public money to compensate terminal operator ICTSI for losses incurred this summer during work slowdowns by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, contrary to the main assertion in an ILWU lawsuit against the port.
The ILWU, in the suit filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland, charged that the port authority violated Oregon law through its cost-sharing arrangement with ICTSI. The suit also charges that the port is violating federal law by altering the economic tools and pressures between labor and management in a jurisdictional dispute in Portland.
The ILWU this summer launched what employers termed work slowdowns at Terminal 6, Portland’s container terminal, in an attempt to get ICTSI to take jobs involved in handling refrigerated containers away from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and assign those jobs to ILWU workers.
Long truck lines formed at Terminal 6 and productivity levels dropped. Shipping lines diverted some vessel calls to other ports during the job actions. In a “business decision” to compensate ICTSI for lost revenue and maintain the company as its terminal operator, the port authority agreed to deduct some of ICTSI’s lost revenue from the rent it pays the port.
Wyatt said the arrangement is legal and there is sufficient precedent for the port authority’s actions. The port authority, which also operates Portland International Airport, was successful in keeping Delta Airlines’ international flights during the 2008-09 economic recession through a similar cost-sharing arrangement.
Also, the port made concessions to cargo interests when the Columbia River locks were closed for an extended period of time. “We vetted this matter completely. I have no concerns whatsoever about the legality of what we did,” Wyatt said.
At stake in this jurisdictional dispute between the ILWU and the IBEW are the equivalent of two full-time jobs plugging, unplugging and monitoring refrigerated containers. Wyatt said the IBEW had performed the work for 38 years when the ILWU this summer suddenly claimed the reefer work as falling under its jurisdiction.
Wyatt said the ILWU actions against ICTSI are misguided because the Port of Portland, not ICTSI, has the contract with the IBEW. “It is not ICTSI’s work to give,” he said.
The ILWU this past year has been engaged in heated jurisdictional battles at a grain terminal in Longview, Wash., a barge facility in Coos Bay, Ore., and Terminal 6 in Portland. Similarly, the International Longshoremen’s Association in the South Atlantic has been fighting a jurisdictional battle involving military cargo.
Given the jurisdictional issues facing dockworker unions, Wyatt said he understands why the ILWU is taking such a strong position in Portland, but he is confident the port authority is on solid legal ground. The question the port faces is, he said, can the ILWU create enough commercial mayhem to achieve its goal?