Truck flows and cargo handling at the Port of Portland were back to normal as the week was drawing to a close, but the residual effects of the latest disagreement between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and terminal operator ICTSI may continue to be felt in the days ahead.
Terminal 6 on Monday experienced a shortage of skilled ILWU workers, which led to delays in the handling of two vessels and long truck waits at Portland’s only container terminal.
A disagreement between the union and ICTSI over overtime pay for weekend and holiday work resulted in a shortage of skilled labor on Jan. 20. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a working holiday under the ILWU contract. Longshoremen who choose to work on such days are paid higher wages as per the waterfront contract.
While the provisions of the coast-wide waterfront contract were not in question in the Jan. 20 disagreement, ILWU locals at most West Coast ports have side agreements with employers that include additional perks for working in different areas of a terminal. One common perk is working only a few hours but receiving pay for a full day’s work.
ICTSI is attempting to reduce its costs in Portland, and the company has been attempting to eliminate side deals that affect productivity or increase its costs of operation. Additional costs may be passed on to the customers or could be absorbed by the company.
ICTSI charged that as a result of the disagreement, the ILWU dispatch hall shorted the terminal on skilled labor, and therefore it had to place restrictions on trucks entering the facility. An ILWU spokeswoman denied those charges and said the union has no control over gate restrictions placed on truckers.
Nevertheless, the disagreement resulted in a disruption of truck traffic at Terminal 6 and delays in handling two ships in port, one of which was operated by Hanjin Shipping Co.
The impact on Hanjin could be especially devastating to the port because, after a series of similar disruptions the past year, Hanjin said it planned to discontinue its Portland service early this year. According to PIERS, the data division of JOC Group, Hanjin accounts for about 70 percent of Portland’s container volume.
“The timing of this incident was bad,” said Sam Ruda, chief commercial officer at the Port of Portland. Port staff the past few months have been speaking with Hanjin in an attempt to assure the line that operations at Terminal 6 are now smooth. The events of Monday show that may not be the case.
In a demonstration of just how bad the timing of the disruption was, the ILWU on Thursday formally took over the plugging, unplugging and monitoring of refrigerated containers at Terminal 6. That work, which amounts to the equivalent of two jobs, has been a source of controversy between the ILWU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for months.
The IBEW had worked those jobs for about 30 years when Portland was an operating port, but the ILWU claimed the work following the naming of ICTSI as operator of Terminal 6. ICTSI is a member of the Pacific Maritime Association, the employers’ group that negotiates and administers the ILWU contract on the West Coast.
ILWU demonstrations and work stoppages the past year significantly impacted cargo handling at the port and contributed to Hanjin’s announcement that it might leave Portland.
Port managers had been feeling better about the situation, though, because last month the governor of Oregon brokered a deal among all of the parties that resulted in the ILWU getting the reefer jobs. It took some weeks to finalize the details of the arrangement, and on Thursday the ILWU began to perform the plugging and unplugging work.
Therefore, the alleged job action that took place earlier this week involving the overtime provisions sent a message to the port community that all is not well between the ILWU and ICTSI.