Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

An Injury to One...


After nine months of negotiations, the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore & Warehouse Union have agreed in principle to the terms of a five-year contract. The agreement, according to both the PMA and the ILWU, is “good for workers and for the industry.” One result of the ongoing, sometimes acrimonious, negotiations has been a significant drop in cargo volumes over the course of the last few months.

For example, container volumes at the Port of Los Angeles dropped 22.7 percent in January compared to the same month last year, and at the Port of Long Beach, volumes were down a similar 18.8 percent, compared to January 2014. Both ports indicated that the labor unrest was a large factor in the decline.

According to a prepared statement from the Port of Oakland, “Cargo movement should improve soon, but it will take time to restore full productivity.”

In the past (as recently as January) in this space I have mentioned longshore labor in the context of port-related problems.

Unrelated to the recent west coast labor negotiations, but along the same lines, is an ongoing dispute at the Port of Portland, Oregon, over the equivalent of two full-time jobs handling refrigerated containers at Portland’s sole container terminal, Terminal 6.

In The IT Crowd, a recent British comedy television series about the computer support staff in a London office tower, the main characters answer the phone with the question, “Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in again?”

Plugging and unplugging refrigerated containers at the Port of Portland is a much more labor-intensive pursuit, and the job is compensated accordingly. So well compensated, in fact, that the job has been a bone of contention between the ILWU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The electrical workers had been plugging, unplugging and monitoring reefer containers in Portland for 30 years, until December of 2013, when former Governor John Kitzhaber awarded the job to the Longshore union.

Since June, the newly employed ILWU workers have walked off the job numerous times due to what the longshore union calls “multiple pay disputes and associated grievances” associated with the “mismanagement” of Terminal 6.

Early last month, ICTSI Oregon, which operates Terminal 6, said that in the last quarter of 2014, ILWU labor was producing only about 13.2 moves per hour, compared to 24.8 moves/hour in May 2012, a roughly 47 percent reduction.

This reduction in productivity has led to multiple container ships bypassing the port over the past two-and-an-half years in order to avoid the situation. Last month, Hanjin Shipping, which is responsible for up to 80 percent of the container traffic at Portland’s only container terminal, announced it was terminating direct call service to the Port of Portland in early March. The revised rotation consists of calls at the ports in the cities of Ningbo, Shanghai, Pusan, Prince Rupert, Seattle, Vancouver, Pusan, Kwangyang and then back to Ningbo. The four affected workers – two for ILWU and two for the IBEW – at terminal 6 can rest easy now. No one will be calling for them to “unplug and plug back in” any refrigerated containers. Maybe they’ll be able to find jobs in tech support.

Editor’s Note:

When longshoremen call to defend their actions, or those of their union leadership, I offer space in the publication for them to make their case in writing. I have yet to be taken up on the offer, but the offer stands.


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