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West Coast deal didn't resolve labor-management dispute hurting Portland container terminal

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PORTLAND, Oregon — The contract agreement between longshore workers and 29 West Coast ports hasn't resolved bad blood between workers and the container terminal operator at the Port of Portland.

The last vessel sent by the major shipper servicing the Port's Terminal 6 left Wednesday after 20 days in port, about 10 times longer than container shippers hope to spend, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/17DBnRv) reports.

The executive director of the port, Bill Wyatt, said the port and the terminal operator are looking for shippers to take up some of the slack left when Hanjin Shipping Co. of South Korea pulled out amid clashes between labor and management at the dock over efficiency.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union says the terminal is poorly managed. The company says dock workers are "hard-timing," deliberately slowing the pace of work.

A tentative contract along the West Coast was reached last week. Now, Wyatt said, he hopes to recruit the Pacific Maritime Association, a coalition of the 29 West Coast operators, to help resolve the Portland differences.

The container work done at Terminal 6 is 15 percent of the marine port's revenue. The marine arm of the Port of Portland also moves grain, potash, soda ash and automobiles.

All of that combined is 20 percent of the port's overall business — airports and industrial leasing make up the rest.

The port operated Terminal 6 on its own for nearly 40 years, making a profit in only two years and losing $17 million in 2009. When it decided to lease the terminal, it was the last West Coast port authority running its own.

The expense of new equipment rules out the port resuming container operations, Wyatt said.

In 2010, the port began a 25-year lease with ICTSI Oregon, whose parent company is International Container Terminal Services Inc., based in the Philippines. The company is on the hook to fulfill nearly $60 million remaining on the lease if the Oregon headquarters can't cut it.

The chief executive of ICTSI Oregon, Elvis Ganda, said the company isn't leaving.

"We are doing what we can to keep T6 open, and the union is doing all it can to shut the terminal down," he said. "If the ILWU thinks its tactics will drive us out, they are sorely mistaken. We're not going anywhere."

"With respect to what the Port will do with the terminal if ICTSI leaves, one can only speculate," said union spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent. "One thing that's sure is that Oregon's workers, farmers, importers and exporters deserve better service than ICTSI has delivered."

Portland's container terminal has disadvantages. Most West Coast ports face the ocean, but ships have to travel 100 miles up the Columbia River to get to Portland.

Shippers have to hire highly paid experts to negotiate the river and its narrow shipping channel. The terminal is not large enough to accommodate several boats at a time, and isn't deep enough to accommodate most modern ships.

Beyond that, West Coast ports are in peril of losing more business each year to the East Coast and the Gulf with the widening of the Panama Canal.

Hanjin did 80 percent of the port's container business.


Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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