PORTLAND — Oregon’s governor is trying to head off a planned walkout at the Port of Portland that could mean the port’s first longshore union work stoppage in decades.
The Oregonian reports that Gov. John Kitzhaber told both sides Friday that he expects them to reach agreement in last-ditch talks set for today.
Marine terminal security guards represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union plan to strike Sunday because contract talks that began in June 2011 have failed to yield an agreement. The longshoremen who load and unload ships are expected to honor the picket line, effectively closing three terminals.
Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael says representatives of both the port and the union told the governor there was room for a deal.
The strike possibility has led some businesses to use ports on Puget Sound, and shipping lines were evaluating whether to bypass the city. When ships are diverted and cargo rerouted, that adds costs, and potentially harmful delays for imports or exports of perishable or seasonal items.
The long-range concern is some shippers might permanently skip the port because of the labor issues. Portland’s Terminal 6 is by far the smallest of the West Coast’s six container-shipping ports, and it’s already at a disadvantage with other Pacific ports because it’s about 100 miles from the ocean.
“As long as it’s a temporary disruption and we don’t lose any shippers, or we don’t lose any manufacturing expansions as a result of their fear that they can’t move their goods, we’ll be OK," state economist Mark McMullen said. “As long as it’s short term, it should just be a disruption and not a disaster."
The sides agree on most aspects of a contract, but workers want an assurance their jobs won’t disappear if terminal operators or carriers want to hire their own, lower-cost security personnel. Port officials believe companies would be more likely to do business in Portland if they’re not handcuffed to job guarantees.
“They’d probably call it a job guarantee; we characterize it as an outsourcing problem," union spokesman Craig Merrilees said.
The pending strike is just one of three separate labor conflicts at the Port of Portland.
The first began this summer when the ILWU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers clashed over which union should have the job of plugging and unplugging refrigerated shipping containers.