West Coast port rift widens

The ports reopened Monday after a weekend shutdown, but resolution to labor negotiations appear far from imminent.

Share this article!


A weekend shutdown appears to have widened the gap between the ports and unions.

The Pacific Maritime Association denounced the demands of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Monday, OregonLive.com reports:

Last week, the association unveiled its offer to the union in a press conference. Monday, the port operators’ coalition cast doubt on the union’s intentions of ending discord at West Coast ports by disclosing the union wants the right to fire arbitrators at the end of contracts. For months, the negotiating went on behind closed doors, but the port operators are revealing key details about the talks to ratchet up tension.

Four arbitrators act as independent third parties in disputes between port operators and local unions. When a contract is in place, and a disagreement erupts, the two sides meet with an arbitrator, lay out their case with the understanding that the loser abides with the decision. Arbitrators work quickly to settle the disputes to minimize disruption in the movement of cargo. According to the Pacific Maritime Association, arbitrators oversaw 250 labor disputes between 2008 and 2014 — the last contract that was in place — of port operators accusing union members of slowdowns or work stoppages. The association said employers won 85 percent of those cases.

Port of Portland executive director Bill Wyatt issued a grim outlook in an interview with the Portland Business Journal:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lockout in the next 10 days,” he said.

Wyatt’s 10-day lockout forecast comes, in part, from the expectations gleaned from shipping companies, whom he said “they know they’re going to suffer immeasurably financially.” But it’s also from what he viewed as a negative reaction by the longshore union to a Feb. 4 contract offer from the PMA he describes as generous. The offer, described by the PMA as its “all-in” offer to break the stalemate, would increase ILWU worker wages — already at an average of $147,000 per year — by 3 percent annually.

While other ports resumed working Monday, Portland’s container terminal remained sidelined, reports Erik Siemers of the PBJ.

ICTSI Oregon Inc., the company that manages the port’s Terminal 6 container business, said it was informed by Local 8 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that would continue a work stoppage that began Friday.

The ILWU attributed the labor action to a move by ICTSI on Jan. 29, Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 to release longshore workers due to low productivity. The continued work stoppage means the Hanjin Copenhagen remains stranded at T6 after four days of inactivity.

PBJ’s Siemers also interviewed a logistics expert who said that the labor strife could have long-lasting and wide-reaching implications for the whole coast:

“There are some customers that are simply not buying on the inbound side or selling on the outbound side because they can’t get space on ships,” said Terri Battle, president of Portland-based Total Logistics Resource Inc. …

Battle said the situation is critical regardless of how many container terminals remained open today: “There are carriers and customers just starting to write the entire West Coast off because of the issues we’ve had in the past,” Battle said. “The cargo that has traditionally moved out of the West Coast is now going to the Gulf or the East Coast if they can get a booking and if there’s enough space (on a vessel).”


Latest from Oregon Business Team