Friday, February 14, 2014

Port of Portland Approves Container Carrier Subsidy Program

By Mark Edward Nero

On a 7-1 vote, the Port of Portland Commission on Feb. 12 approved an incentive program designed to keep Hanjin Shipping from following through on a threat to stop calling at Portland’s Terminal 6.

Under the one-year program, the port says it will pay shipping lines $20 per container moved through Portland, plus an additional $25 per container for each increase in the number they transport beyond pre-determined levels, with a not-to-exceed budget of $4 million.

“The program is being developed in order to help sustain the mission-critical nature of the container franchise to shippers in Oregon and throughout the region,” the port’s general manager of marine business development, Sebastian Degens, said in a presentation to the Commission.

At the meeting, port Executive Director Bill Wyatt said that without the program, Hanjin will not continue its weekly calls at Terminal 6. Hanjin is the port’s largest carrier, handling close to 80 percent of the terminal’s cargo. The company, which has been averaging about 1,600 containers per week, has had a presence in the Portland area since 1994.

However, Hanjin announced in October 2013 that because of escalating costs, beginning in the first quarter of 2014, it would cease its direct-call service to Port of Portland as part of its Pacific Northwest Hanjin Express Service.

“If they choose to leave, we could end up seeing a fence go up around Terminal 6,” Wyatt said. Objecting to the program was the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, which said the subsidies would amount to an indirect subsidy benefiting terminal operator ICTSI Oregon.

The incentives are one component of a two-part initiative to increase the long-term viability of the container franchise in Portland, Degens said, with the second component involving a current initiative by Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office to bring parties together to address and seek remedies for current labor jurisdictional issues.

ILWU Local 8 has been involved in a years-long legal battle with ICTSI regarding territorial rights and productivity on the docks.

Gov. Kitzhaber announced Dec. 12 that a two-year dispute over specific work at Terminal 6 had been resolved and that the job of plugging in and unplugging refrigerated ships at the terminal was being reassigned from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to ILWU Local 8 workers. However, since then the terminal operator has accused the longshore union of conducting work slowdowns and decreased productivity.

Port Commissioner Bruce Holte, a Local 8 member and former officer, cast the lone vote against the subsidy plan.

The subsidy program, which is set to expire at the end of 2014, would be paid for entirely from revenues received from ICTSI under the Terminal 6 lease, according to the port.