Thursday, December 1, 2011

Judge Considers Dropping ILWU Criminal Charges

International Longshore and Warehouse Union lawyers have asked a judge to drop criminal charges against several dozen dockworkers who blocked a train from entering a Port of Longview terminal during a September protest.

Attorneys for union members argued in Cowlitz County District Court on Nov. 30 that the dockworkers’ actions were protected under the US constitutional amendment protecting the right to assemble.

“They were doing something very important to Americans – engaging in First Amendment action,” ILWU attorney Neil Fox told district court judge Ron Marshall during the hearing.

The lawyers also asserted that the port did not clearly identify which areas were off-limits during the protest.

Almost two-dozen people were arrested on misdemeanor charges during the Sept. 7 demonstration, which included a four-hour standoff where about 300 dockworkers and supporters stood on the railroad tracks below an overpass and blocked a mile-long train bound for the port’s EGT terminal.

In addition to the arrests, the union was fined more than $300,000 by the federal government for blocking of trains and alleged property damaged caused during a total of three protests that took place during September. The union is appealing the fines.
The protests were part of a long struggle between the terminal operator and union over labor issues.

The union says its contract with the port requires that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal must go to unionized labor. The company, however, says its lease agreement with the port does not require ILWU workers.

During the Nov. 30 hearing, Marshall didn’t indicate when he might issue a ruling, but said a lack of proof by prosecutors may play a part in his decision.
“We’re still in flux in terms of whether the state has admissible evidence to prove a crime,” he said.

West Coast Ports Bracing for Possible Occupy Shutdown

Ports up and down the West Coast say they are preparing for the possibility of a mass demonstration later this month, even as the union representing longshore workers says it won’t support the protest.

Officials with the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland and elsewhere all say they are mapping out strategies to deal with the expected demonstration, which is planned for Dec. 12 by the Occupy movement.

The movement, which protests wealth inequality, already succeeded in a port protest on Nov. 2, when thousands of demonstrators managed to shut down the Port of Oakland for about four hours.

Now the movement says it will expand its actions to include ports from Vancouver, Canada down to San Diego during a one-day action, starting at 5 am on a Monday. If it transpires, the effect could be temporarily devastating, particularly at LA/Long Beach: the port complex handles an estimated $1 billion in imports and exports daily.

Occupy has specifically said it is targeting terminal operators EGT and SSA, because of perceived mistreatment of workers in South America and of ‘gross exploitation’ of port truckers.

“EGT … is Wall Street on the waterfront,” Barucha Peller of the West Coast Port Blockade Assembly of Occupy Oakland said. “This is our coordinated response against the (top) one percent (of the wealthy). On Dec. 12, we will show our collective power through pinpointed economic blockade.”

But despite previously expressing written and verbal support for the movement, ILWU leadership says it does not authorize dockworkers’ participation in the planned shutdown because it is by a third-party group and has not been vetted by the union.

Port of Grays Harbor Vehicle Exports on Record Pace

The Port of Grays Harbor says it’s on pace to set a new record for the number of vehicles exported this year. The increase, the port says, is due to a growing demand in Asia for US-made vehicles.

Through October, more than 30,000 North American-made vehicles have been shipped through the port, already surpassing the roughly 21,000 that passed through during all of 2010.

The port estimates it’s on pace to see about 37,000 cars shipped out during the year, with the prime destination being China, which has become the world’s largest automobile market. Demand for North American-made cars, particularly Chryslers, has exploded in the country in recent years and is expected to rise 10 percent in 2012.

The port’s export business, which was launched in 2009, is handled by Pasha Automotive Services, which receives the vehicles after they’re delivered to the port via BNSF and Union Pacific railways from Midwest assembly plants.

Port of Seattle Budget to Rise in 2012

The Port of Seattle Commission has formally approved a 2012 budget that includes increases in the amounts of both operating revenue and operating expenses.

The budget, approved by the commission at its Nov. 22 meeting, includes an operating expenses increase to $309.7 million, an 8.4 percent jump over the current year. It also includes an operating revenue rise to $518.1 billion, up 5.1 percent compared to 2011.

Operating revenue for the port’s real estate division is expected to grow by about two percent compared to 2011 budget levels, according to budget data, as third party and lease revenue rises slightly as the hospitality and real estate markets continue to recover.

CEO Tay Yoshitani said that in 2012 the port expects an increase in cruise passengers as well as a new lease at Terminal 106 to increase operating revenues 2.5 percent relative to 2011.

The addition of a Disney Cruise Line homeport ship is anticipated to increase passenger volumes by about 10 percent, he said.

Critical goals for 2012 listed by port include increasing the amount of cargo freight and number of passengers moving through the freight and passenger terminals, as well as developing a stewardship plan for key division assets, such as the SeaTac Airport, which the seaport operates.

The budget also allocates over $390 million for capital projects, including the Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project and South Park Bridge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fidley Watch: Eastern Drift

From Internet news provider comes an update on the debris washed out to sea by the March Japanese tsunami: It’s headed our way.

After months of floating across the Pacific Ocean, debris from the devastating tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 has turned up exactly where scientists predicted it would, 3,000 miles from Japan. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami washed millions of tons of debris into the Pacific. Scientists at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have been trying to track the trajectory of this debris, which ranges from pieces of fishing vessels to TV sets.

For nearly six months, the scientists were relying on a computer model of ocean currents to speculate where the tsunami debris might end up. The new sightings are backing up the model, showing debris in places where the model predicted. In September, a Russian sailing ship, the STS Pallada, found an array of unmistakable tsunami debris on its homeward voyage from Honolulu to Vladivostok.

The tall ship Pallada is a 354-foot, steel-hulled training ship built in 1989 and operated by the Navigation Institute of Dalrybvtuz (the Russian Far Eastern State Fisheries University). Used as a seamanship training ship to train cadets for the Russian merchant fleet, the Pallada carries more than a hundred cadets and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest sailing ship in the world, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 18 knots.

Pallada was on the last leg of a US West Coast tour and headed back home when she encountered the debris field coming the other way. Soon after passing Midway Islands on September 22nd, crewmembers aboard the Pallada spotted a surprising number of floating items including a TV set, a refrigerator and other home appliances, as well as a 22-foot fiberglass fishing boat from the area of Japan hardest hit by the tsunami.

For the next five days, according to Natalia Borodina, information and education mate of the Pallada, the crew sighted “every day things like wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets (small and big ones), an object resembling a wash basin, drums, boots, other wastes. All these objects are floating by the ship.”

The exact location of some of the now widely scattered debris allows scientists to make more accurate projections about where the debris might go and when it might arrive. The first landfall on Midway Islands is anticipated this winter. What misses Midway will continue toward the main Hawaiian Islands, where it is expected to hit in two years, and then on to the West Coast of North America in three years.

Good news from Ms. Borodina for future recipients of the tsunami trash: The radioactivity level of the debris is normal. “We’ve measured it with the Geiger counter,” she says.

Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Occupy Movement Plans Port Action

The Occupy movement, which has staged sit-ins at cities across the US, says it is now planning to stage a Dec. 12 shutdown of all West Coast seaports.

“We’re shutting down these ports because of the union busting and attacks on the working class by the one percent: the firing of port truckers organizing at SSA terminals in LA; the attempt to rupture (International Longshore and Warehouse) union jurisdiction in Longview, Washington,” the protesters said in a statement released Nov. 28.

The ILWU, however, says no decision has been made regarding whether to support such an action.

ILWU President Robert McEllrath said although the union shares the Occupiers’ concerns and agrees with its overall message, no vote has been taken by the unions’ membership on whether to support the proposed shutdown, which would begin at 5 a.m. at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland and other West Coast port cities.

The Occupy movement has accused the union of backing off its previously-expressed support.

“President McEllrath on Oct. 5 publicized his ‘solidarity with Occupy Wall Street’ statement. But now the ILWU International officers are contradicting themselves,” reads a statement that was sent to port workers by the Occupy movement. “ILWU is bottom up, not top down. Occupy’s enemies … are ILWU’s enemies, too.”

On Nov. 2, the Occupy movement was successful in shutting down nighttime operations at the Port of Oakland for a few hours when a crowd estimated at over 4,000 walked from the city’s business district to the port.

Port of Tacoma to Dredge Blair Waterway

The Port of Tacoma says it expects to seek bids in December for a plan to deepen the water around one of its main containership terminals. The action is being taken, according to the port, to counter an increase in sediment from the nearby Puyallup River, which has been collecting along piers 3 and 4.

According to the port’s lease with containership operator “K” Line, there’s a mandated water depth of at least 51 feet at the terminal during low tide so that ships can tie up. But with that stipulation not currently being met, “K” Line has adjusted its containership schedules so that its ships usually call on Husky Terminal during higher tides.

The dredging activities, which are expected to eliminate silt from a half-mile long, 150 foot wide area at a cost of about $1.5 million, are due for completion by mid-February, according to the port.

The dredged sediment and other materials are expected to be placed in either on land or a deep-water disposal area.

Three Super-Sized Cranes Arrive in Seattle

The Port of Seattle has become the new home for three “Super Post-Panamax” container cranes.

The cranes, which are made to handle the largest vessels now in existence, were brought through Elliott Bay on Nov. 28, and are expected to allow the port to expand the reach of unloading container ships to the 24 container width maximum.

They were built in Shanghai, China and transported to the Pacific Northwest aboard a ship specially modified to transport unusually large cargo.

The cranes are the first to come to the port since an August deal with SSA Terminals, under which the company has to buy more of its own cranes in exchange for no longer having to pay the port a fee to maintain and operate port-owned cranes.

Under the agreement, SSA, which operates out of Terminal 18, has to buy more of its own cranes over the next five years. In addition to the three just-arrived cranes, another three are expected to arrive by 2013.

Although the port’s expected lose over $5 million in revenue in the next five years under the deal, it says it will ultimately save at least $232,000, since it won’t have to pay for any of the scheduled crane replacements during that time.

Port of Los Angeles Developing Pollution Reduction Incentives

The Port of Los Angeles is creating a set of incentives to offer shipping lines to reduce air pollution from their vessels.

The port’s harbor board received an outline of the proposed program during its most recently business meeting in mid-November, and staff says it expects full recommendations for program participation sometime in 2012.

The port’s working with the International Association of Ports and Harbors, or IAPH, to develop the incentives. Port of LA Executive Director Geraldine Knatz is president of the IAPH.

The incentives are being devised so that the port can participate in the web-based Environmental Ship Index program, an international ship-rating system.

The ESI identifies voluntary enhancements in ship engines, fuel and technology that could be used to top environmental standards. It targets nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, diesel particulate and greenhouse gases and other air pollutants.

“The Port of Los Angeles is looking forward to being part of these international standards and setting the stage for North American ports to follow suit,” Knatz said. “As participation grows, the benefits increase for carriers and communities.”

Nine European ports -- including ones in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway -- have signed on to participate in the ESI, and either already have incentive programs or are in the process of developing them.