There are tensions at the Port of Portland. A judge’s ruling on Friday (May 30th) sparked more anger and controversy there, increasing that tension.
What’s going on? I’m glad you asked.
There’s a fight over jobs. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union [ILWU] pretty nearly has a monopoly on waterfront jobs. Imports and exports go through the ILWU men and women at the ports. The ILWU is doing its best to keep a tight grip on all the port jobs.
But there are some jobs at the Port of Portland that haven’t gone to the ILWU. Fighting over these jobs is the source of tension at the port.
For years, the port has employed International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI) electricians not ILWU members to handle things like plugging, unplugging, and monitoring reefer containers (refrigerated shipping containers).
The ILWU believes these jobs should no longer be the responsibility of the port, able to hire anyone they want, but the responsibility of the unions as part of the labor agreement made back in 2008.
The Port of Portland has not seen it this way and the battle over who controls these jobs went to court and created part of the prologue for the case a judgment was made Friday.
An article from HandyShippingGuide.com reports:
[Friday’s judgment] comes after rulings on who was contracted to work on reefer boxes as they passed through the supply chain. A previous judge took the view that the electricians, employed by the port, had responsibility for plugging, unplugging, and monitoring refrigerated containers not the longshoremen who work for Philippine group ICTSI. In the judge’s opinion this was traditionally the status quo whereas the unions believed that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s (ILWU) 2008 coastwise labour agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) meant responsibility for these works had transferred to its members. For thirty-six years the work was the responsibility of the port but the union maintains that when the terminal management transferred to ICTSI so did responsibility for the equipment concerned and the PMA deemed it to be an ILWU staff job. 
The port believes that the ILWU workers have intentionally slowed down the movement of shipping containers being imported and exported through the Port of Portland, specifically Terminal 6, over ILWU’s displeasure with the decision to allow these jobs to continue to go to electricians hired by the port instead of the union.
There have, in fact, been many slowdowns and long, unpredictable wait times at Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland where all this job drama is centered. We’ve even tweeted and shared on Facebook to our followers about delays at the port’s terminal.
On Friday, an Administrative Law Judge for the National Labor Relations Board ruled in agreement that the ILWU has been intentionally slowing down freight movement at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6.
Immediately and not surprisingly, the ILWU attacked this judgment.
“It’s an absurd outcome,” said Troy Mosteller, secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 8. He said the ruling would force union laborers to work in a way that “puts lives at risk or be accused of hard timing” International Container Terminal Services International Oregon…
Union officials said ICTSI Oregon is trying to force union operators to violate federal safety standards. The ruling means, in effect, “we should operate in bypass mode, risk our lives and the lives of others, lifting cargo with a crane higher than the cranes established maximum lift capacity,” said Leal Sundet, the ILWU’s Coast Committeeman. I’m ready to agree with the union as they continue to argue in an OregonLive article of the Oregonian:
A judgment that says workers should work and operate machinery in an unsafe manner is appalling. As what gets quoted in articles of the judgment is finding that ILWU is guilty of having “deliberately worked in a less productive manner—by operating their cranes at a reduced speed, refusing to hoist their cranes in ‘bypass mode’ to discharge high containers, refusing to move two 20-foot containers (‘twin 20s’) at a time on older trailers, and driving their trucks slowly…” it is easy to see this as a slap in the American worker’s face, throwing worker’s rights backward.
But reading the actual decision changes perspective from reading about the ILWU response:
As summarized below, there is ample record evidence supporting these allegations:
Local 8 crane operators unnecessarily working their cranes in a slow “box” pattern (rather than a smoother “arc” pattern) throughout the relevant period…
… Local 8 truckdrivers driving slow, at 3–5 mph instead of the usual 15 mph, and taking indirect routes around the yard, for no apparent reason…
… crane operators operating in such a manner 2 days in a row… that both performed only about 15 net container moves per hour, far below normal…
…an incident… when most of the Local 8 truckdrivers on two gangs were taking the “scenic route” around the yard and leaving the crane hook hanging for no apparent reason…. many of the drivers refused to comply with the foreman’s order to take the direct route until after he threatened them with discharge….
Brian Yockey… overheard an experienced Local 8 crane operator on the radio state that the operators were no longer “allowed” to use the bypass mode to hoist their cranes past a certain safety limit to discharge high containers. Yockey immediately contacted Craig Bitz, a Local 8 Labor Relations Committee (LRC) representative and relief business agent, and reminded him of the parties’ longstanding agreement and practice of using the bypass mode in such situations. Bitz responded that operating in the bypass mode was an OSHA violation, and that the Union was “not going to work in a manner to help [ICTSI] as they have in the past” because of the complaints ICTSI had filed against Local 8 members. ICTSI therefore had to shift ballast to get the ship lower in the water, which added several hours to the operation….
… [Bitz] did not deny telling Yockey during their conversation about the bypass mode that the Union was not going to help the Company as it had in the past because of all the recent complaints against Local 8 and its members….
Jan Holmes, the standing area arbitrator at the terminal for many years, specifically found that three Local 8 crane operators engaged in a slowdown while working a Hapag Lloyd vessel… based on their exceptionally low production figures… and other evidence presented at the formal hearing, including videotape of the operation…
As court decisions keep going against the ILWU about purposefully creating slowdowns, the evidence seems to clearly support they’ve used such tactics.
With negotiations currently underway for a new contract between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association concerning west coast dockworker jobs, it can only be hoped no such tactics will come into play. Nor a lockout or strike.
The costs could be high for shippers, businesses, and the economy.