Cargo ships to bypass Port of Portland as longshore-backed strike looms Sunday
The crew of the Cape Manila, a 41,000-ton container ship heading for Portland, may have to make other plans. So will vessels carrying cars and bulk products.
Ocean cargo carriers are preparing to bypass the Port of Portland because of a strike planned Sunday by marine terminal security guards, Port officials said Tuesday.
The diversions by the giant freighters are expected to snarl cargo, hurt importers and exporters and further damage Portland's reputation as an international freight hub.
"There will be diversions," said Sam Ruda, Port of Portland chief commercial officer. "The last thing people want to do is have their ships caught at berth."
Port officials plan to hire workers to replace the 25 longshore union members during a strike. But three Port terminals where the guards work are expected to shut down anyway, because fellow longshore workers who handle cargo assert the right to honor picket lines.
That's what happened in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday as longshoremen refused to cross the picket line as a show of solidarity with protesting custodial and maintenance workers at the port.
"These service workers have effectively shut down the port," said Jack Heyman, a retired longshoreman from Oakland, quoted by The San Francisco Chronicle. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan stepped in to bring the parties back to contract talks.
In addition, talks have reportedly faltered between the longshore union representing more than 600 clerical workers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and their employers. The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported Tuesday that the impasse heightens concerns over a potential shutdown of the nation's busiest seaport complex.
In Portland, a shutdown would freeze millions of dollars worth of goods and force shippers to truck containers to and from Tacoma and other alternate ports. A strike of any length would inflict more economic damage than that caused by missed ship calls and clogged cargo during separate disruptions last summer also involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Oregon state government's top mediator plans to convene last-ditch negotiations Saturday, hoping to avert the strike scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. Sunday. The security officers, who work at the gates of terminals 2, 4 and 6, want a job security guarantee that Port managers have refused during 17 months of intermittent talks to provide.
Port officials also proposed Tuesday entering arbitration this week with the security officer's union, longshore Local 28. A spokesman for San Francisco-based ILWU, which has taken over communications for the local, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
On Monday, the security officers boycotted a meeting with Bill Wyatt, Port executive director, according to Port officials.
Like jetliners, giant cargo ships cost huge amounts to operate per hour. Rerouting them fouls up operations at other busy ports, where vessel berths are limited.
Therefore shipping lines calling on Portland, already inconvenienced by the city's location across the Columbia Bar and 100 miles upriver, regard the strike potential as an expensive hassle.
Managers of South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co., which owns the Cape Manila, couldn't be reached Tuesday. But they're unlikely to risk sending the trans-Pacific vessel to Portland on its regular schedule Saturday, for fear of stranding it if the strike begins as planned early Sunday.
Owners of huge ships carrying Toyota, Honda and Hyundai vehicles to Portland are also reevaluating plans, as is Ford, which exports from the Port.
As the strike looms, longshore workers are considering a final offer by employers in separate negotiations between the union and owners of Northwest grain terminals. A breakdown of those contentious talks could lead to a strike or lockout affecting Portland, Vancouver and Puget Sound grain terminals.