The Port of Portland, Ore., is in the eye of a storm that could result in job actions from three different labor disputes shutting down some or all of its marine terminals.
Of most immediate concern is a contract impasse between 25 marine security officers and the port authority. The security officers who work at terminal gates are members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 28.
If the port authority and the union do not reach an agreement this week, the security officers could walk off of their jobs at 6 a.m. Nov. 25. Because they are members of the ILWU and work at the marine terminals, they could start picketing the facilities and ILWU dockworkers would most likely honor the pickets.
The port and the ILWU agree that most of the contract issues have been resolved, but the union wants a guarantee that the marine security guard jobs would remain under its jurisdiction in perpetuity.
The port authority has already been burned by making such a commitment years ago to the electrical workers union involving in plugging and unplugging refrigerated containers at Terminal 6. That decision has come back to haunt the port now that the port’s only container terminal has changed hands. Port executives want to avoid the same type of jurisdictional flap with security guards if facilities change hands in the future.
Although the ILWU said no talks are scheduled right now, port spokesman Josh Thomas said negotiators for the port offered to meet with the union on Monday.
Maintaining union jurisdiction is a huge issue today on both the West and East coasts as longshore unions compete with other unions to hold on to jobs in the face of automation. ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said Local 28 in Portland is working for “protection against outsourcing of good jobs.”
The dispute between the ILWU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers over what amounts to two jobs plugging, unplugging and monitoring reefer containers at Terminal 6 is the second dispute that could result in job actions at the Port of Portland.
The ILWU-IBEW issue is involved in litigation at the U.S. District Court in Portland. Judge Michael Simon heard arguments and took the case under advisement on Nov. 9. A decision is expected soon, and if it is not favorable to the ILWU, a job action is possible.
A third dispute involves regionwide contract negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers group that represents the operators of six grain terminals in Oregon and Washington. One of those terminals is located at the Port of Portland.
The grain handlers organization on Friday presented what it said is its final and best offer to the ILWU. A union spokesman said the ILWU is willing to continue negotiating and wants to avoid a strike at the grain terminals.
Employers seek work rule changes that they said are necessary to maintain productivity and equalize their contract with other terminals in the region that do not have restrictive work rules.
If a job action occurs at the grain terminal in Portland, and it spills over to container operations at Terminal 6, the Pacific Maritime Association would immediately seek arbitration. The PMA manages the coastwide container contract with the ILWU.
PMA President Jim McKenna noted that the grain handlers contract and the coastwide container contract are two separate agreements, and the ILWU labor working at the grain terminals does not work at the container terminal in Portland. The PMA would seek an illegal secondary boycott ruling if the grain workers erected pickets at Terminal 6 that were honored by the ILWU dockworkers, McKenna said.
Even if all three of these disputes are resolved peacefully, the Port of Portland has already paid a price for the labor uncertainty of recent months. The port said productivity at Terminal 6 has been compromised. Shipping lines are said to be reconsidering their presence in Portland in light of the various labor disputes.