The International Longshore and Warehouse Union apparently won what it considers to be a significant victory in securing the equivalent of two full-time jobs managing refrigerated containers at the Port of Portland, although there is still the possibility that the ILWU won the battle but lost the war.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced that after quiet negotiations in a contentious jurisdictional dispute between the ILWU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the IBEW, which had been plugging, unplugging and monitoring reefer containers in Portland for the past 30 years, agreed to relinquish that work to the ILWU.
There is still a chance, however, that those two jobs could be diminished in January if Hanjin Shipping Co., by far the largest carrier serving the port, follows through on its announced plans to leave Portland early next year because of high costs and poor productivity.
According to PIERS, the data division of JOC Group, Hanjin and its partner lines in the CKYH alliance account for 76 percent of Portland’s container volume. Hanjin accounts for about 55 percent of Portland’s reefer containers, according to the port.
Sam Ruda, chief commercial officer for the Port of Portland, said Friday that port executives have been attempting to convince Hanjin to remain, and hopefully the agreement the governor brokered will convince the carrier to maintain its weekly service from Asia. Ruda said the port expects to receive an official response from Hanjin soon. Attempts to reach Hanjin were unsuccessful.
Although securing jurisdiction over two jobs doesn’t sound like a lot, this two-year-old dispute is part of a much larger jurisdictional battle that the ILWU is waging against other unions including the IBEW and International Association of Machinists, as well as non-union employers, at ports all along the West Coast.
These jurisdictional disputes have been bitter, involving demonstrations, numerous arrests, violence and at times vessel diversions. The disputes will take on even greater significance next year as the ILWU enters contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association for an agreement covering the full West Coast. ILWU jurisdiction is expected to be a major issue in the negotiations leading up to expiration of the current contract on July 1, 2014.
A release from the governor’s office stated that IBEW 48 agreed to transition the reefer work to the ILWU. The IBEW workers will be assigned to other port-related duties. “With the resolution of this key dispute, we can keep Terminal 6 a competitive, productive and internationally attractive container terminal,” Kitzhaber said.
The ILWU is pleased with the agreement, but not completely satisfied. In a statement Friday, Leal Sundet, ILWU Local 8 longshoreman and ILWU coast committeeman, said an issue that is still unresolved is a port terminal use agreement between ICTSI, the operator of Terminal 6, and Hanjin. ICTSI inherited the port’s terminal use agreement with Hanjin when the company took over operation of the container terminal three years ago. Before that, Portland had been an operating port.
“That agreement expired a year ago, and negotiations on the terms of a new agreement have stalled over ICTSI’s insistence on charging Hanjin excessive rates and eliminating the throughput arrangement Hanjin had with the port,” Sundet said.
The ILWU coast committeeman charged further that Philippines-based ICTSI “imported a model of labor relations at Terminal 6 that has severely hindered terminal operations. ICTSI’s labor management model is authoritarian and intimidation-based,” Sundet stated.
During the height of the dispute last year, per hour crane productivity at Terminal 6 had dropped as low as the high teens, according to Port of Portland spokesman Josh Thomas. The lifts per crane per hour have since moved up to about 21, though even that puts it at the extreme low end of crane productivity at U.S. ports; At the highest end, for example, Charleston operators at over 40 moves per hour. The lift count on one vessel recently spiked to 26-27, but that is not the average, Thomas said. Most terminal operators in the U.S. cite 30 moves per crane per hour as being a standard to strive for.
In addition to these operational problems, the reefer situation has been further muddled by ongoing litigation that has pitted the ILWU and the PMA against the Port of Portland and related parties. The port prevailed in earlier decisions by the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. district court in Portland, but the litigation continues.
The statement from the governor’s office said Kitzhaber’s announcement “does not impact or address the ongoing legal disputes” between ILWU, ICTSI Oregon, PMA and the port. “This agreement settles the work assignment conflict on a go-forward basis only,” the governor stated.
The PMA could not be immediately reached, and the ILWU is not commenting as to whether the union will continue to pursue the litigation in light of this week’s agreement.