Friday, March 7, 2014

Portland Longshoremen Twice Walk Off Job

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Portland's struggling ICTSI terminal had its operations stalled for two days this week after longshore workers twice walked off the job, once to honor a picket line and once after a verbal altercation.

ICTSI’s Terminal 6 was hampered by separate walkouts March 4 and 5. The more recent incident was the result of a verbal battle between longshore workers and container yard employees. An ICTSI manager called 911 March 5 and reported that three longshoremen had made vague death threats against employees during an argument over a traffic cone. Portland Police Dept. officers responded to scene, but determined that no crime occurred, according to Police Department spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union local, however, maintain that it was ICTSI and port employees who issued the threats of physical harm. ILWU Local 8 responded to the incident by calling a work stoppage for the day due to “health and safety issues.”

Just one day before, the terminal had been shut down for hours after ILWU members decided to honor a labor action by Honduran dockworkers.

The Hondurans, who were claiming they’ve been denied jobs in Honduras by a subsidiary of ICTSI’s parent company, walked off the job the morning of March 4, followed by all other longshore workers at the terminal around midday, according to ICTSI.

However, an arbitrator hired by the longshore union and employers association ruled that a picket line that had been set up was a violation of contract terms and ordered the longshore workers to return to the job. Terminal 6 was up and running again during the evening shift, according to the port.

The two days of labor strife were just the latest in a years-long battle between the union and ICTSI over job assignments and worker productivity.

In December 2013, Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber announced 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 multiple times accused the longshore union of conducting work slowdowns and decreased productivity.