Eye On Boise

Port of Portland labor dispute backs up all the way to Lewiston...

A labor dispute between longshoremen and electrical workers at the Port of Portland has backed up all the way to Lewiston, the AP reports, where some shippers are opting for more expensive truck shipments rather than risk delays in loading their products and sending them down river on barges from the Port of Lewiston. Operations at the Port of Portland have been slowed for more than three weeks. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Dispute over Portland containers hits Idaho port
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A union-on-union fight over whose members should plug in refrigerated shipping containers in Oregon has sent economic ripples 360 miles upstream to an Idaho port, where some customers have ditched river barges for trucks rather than wait out the uncertainty.

Port of Lewiston manager David Doeringsfeld said the labor dispute between longshoremen and electrical workers at the Port of Portland is "definitely affecting container traffic" on the Snake River that would ordinarily be barged downstream to the Columbia River, then Portland.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered an end to the slowdown, after one international shipping company, Hanjin, refused to call on Portland until the dispute is resolved.

Some of Doeringsfeld's customers from Idaho's agriculture and wood-products industries have been concerned about whether container vessels will be loaded with their goods. As a result, they've pulled their Hanjin container business from the river and instead trucked cargo to ports on Washington state's Puget Sound.

"A customer may be forced with rolling over their delivery dates because their cargo didn't get loaded, because it's still sitting on docks," Doeringsfeld said. "There are a fair number of Hanjin containers that are now going to be trucked to the Puget Sound, rather than go on the river."

Clearwater Paper, which makes pulp, tissue and paperboard at facilities in Lewiston, typically ships a small percentage of its products through the Port of Portland, via Lewiston's river port.

While this dispute continues, Clearwater is shifting some of those shipments to trucks bound for the Port of Tacoma, to make sure overseas deliveries stay on schedule, said Matt Van Vleet, a spokesman for the Spokane, Wash.-based company.

Even though shipping by truck is typically more expensive than by river barge, producers such as Clearwater have concluded delivering their goods on time and according to contract is worth the extra money.

In all, more than 1,000 regional businesses — including many lentil and pea growers, lumber mills and paper makers in Idaho — depend on the Port of Portland's container terminal stricken by the work slowdown to get their goods to or from international markets.

Former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski unsuccessfully sought a settlement in the dispute between the unions, which are fighting over a policy that works out to the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

When he failed to broker a deal by Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ordered the longshoremen to halt their work slowdown for at least 10 days, in a bid to end three weeks of port disruptions.

Upstream in Lewiston, Doeringsfeld said his facility — billed as the West Coast's farthest inland port, made possible by a system of downstream dams and locks — loses revenue from customers who opt not to have products loaded onto barges at the Port of Lewiston's dock.

He's hopeful the judge's order — and an eventual union agreement over who should plug in and unplug the containers — returns shipping through Lewiston to normal patterns.

"We haven't had any barges canceled, but there's been maybe less export volume," Doeringsfeld said. "If it's resolved, I expect operations will go back to normal very quickly."


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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