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Restoring the Lower Snake River


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Problems continue at the Port of Portland's container terminal, even though a labor dispute with the West Coast's longshoremen has been resolved.

"There's 29 (West Coast ports) and 28 of them are back to work as normal, except for the Port of Portland," Lewiston Port Manager David Doeringsfeld said at a port commission meeting Tuesday.

Doeringsfeld and others previously hoped conditions at the Oregon port would improve once the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association reached a tentative agreement.

That happened in late February, but the Port of Portland's troubles predate that labor negotiation. Hanjin, the port's largest container shipper, announced earlier this year it would no longer call on Portland after years of being unhappy with the pace of work among longshore workers.

Last week, Doeringsfeld said at least two oceangoing ships waited for several days to be loaded and unloaded instead of having a 24-hour turnaround time, which would have been normal. One of the vessels belonged to Hapag-Lloyd, the line that moves the greatest share of containers that originate in Lewiston.

The Port of Portland is key to the success of the Port of Lewiston. All the cargo barged from north central Idaho goes to Portland before being transferred to larger boats that take it overseas. But most of the cargo moves on bulk grain barges, not container barges.

The Port of Portland, labor union and ICTSI, the port container terminal's contracted operator, have different viewpoints on the issue.

"We're not seeing the historic level of container movement we once enjoyed," said Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson.

Labor and ICTSI blame each other.

Portland has 10 marine terminals and all of them have good labor relations except for the one that handles containers and is operated by ICTSI, Jennifer Sargent, a spokeswoman for the longshore workers union in San Francisco, wrote in an email.

ICTSI has roughly 20 years left in a 25-year contract to operate the container terminal, Johnson said.

"The fact that ICTSI's terminal ... is being reported as the only container terminal on the West Coast with issues right now begs the question of why ICTSI isn't thriving while dozens of its peers in the industry are," Sargent wrote.

ICTSI has a different take. The labor union has continued a work slowdown even though the tentative agreement has been reached, ICTSI Oregon CEO Elvis Ganda wrote in an email. Two vessels, one from Hanjin and another from Hapag-Lloyd "were in port for approximately twice the normal time that would be expected," he wrote.


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