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More ships might divert from Port of Portland

Truck traffic at the port has been backed up for more than two weeks.

By JONATHAN J. COOPER
The Associated Press

6/26/2012

SALEM, Ore. — Two major shippers are bypassing the Port of Portland, and a third might.

Officials are waiting to hear whether a third company will also avoid the city's docks because of a dispute between two unions and management.

It's unclear when the next container ship will arrive at the affected terminal, and on Monday, the company that operates it refused to accept cargo containers holding goods to be exported. ICTSI Oregon Inc. advised truckers they can only deliver empty containers or pick up goods that have been imported.

"Without major container carriers, we can't accept export cargo, because otherwise it would sit in the yard without anywhere to go," said Josh Thomas, a spokesman for the Port of Portland.

The slowdown is the result of a dispute between members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers over which union's workers should plug in and unplug refrigerated shipping containers known as reefers. Truck traffic at the port has been backed up for more than two weeks.

"We are working on solutions which will get us back to normal as quickly as possible. Thank you for your continued patience and cooperation," Jim Mullen, ICTSI terminal manager, said in a notice to truckers posted on the company's website.

Westwood Shipping Lines, of Puyallup, Wash., has not said whether it will follow the other two shippers that serve the affected terminal in diverting cargo to other West Coast ports, Thomas said. Westwood officials did not return calls requesting comment.

Hanjin, a South Korean shipping company, and Hapag-Lloyd AG, based in Germany, have said they will divert ships to other ports until the dispute is resolved. The two companies comprise the bulk of container traffic through the port's Terminal 6, the one affected by the slowdown. The slowdown has only affected container ships at Terminal 6, not those carrying cars or steel through that terminal or others at the port.

The pace of work loading containers on the Hanjin Madrid picked up over the weekend, though not to average levels, Thomas said. The Madrid departed Monday morning, and no others ships are currently at the terminal.

A federal judge last week appointed former Gov. Ted Kulongoski to mediate the dispute over the equivalent of two full-time jobs. The judge ordered officials involved in the mediation not to talk publicly about it.

The electrical workers have maintained the reefers for decades under an agreement with the Port of Portland. The question of whether they should continue to perform the job has arisen because the port decided in 2010 to lease Terminal 6 operations to a private company, ICTSI Oregon Inc., a subsidiary of a company in the Philippines.

The 25-year lease includes language that the reefer jobs belonged to electrical workers.

But now that a private company is in control, the longshoremen say the jobs must switch to them because of the collective bargaining agreement between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association that covers all West Coast ports. It states that longshoremen maintain the reefers.