Electricians are given disputed jobs at Port of Portland

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PORTLAND — The National Labor Relations Board has awarded a pair of disputed jobs at the Port of Portland to union electricians, setting the table for renewed tension at the North Portland container terminal.

In a ruling released Monday afternoon, the NLRB rejected arguments from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that its workers should perform the task of plugging and unplugging refrigerated cargo containers known as reefers.

The conflict over what amounts to two jobs prompted Longshoremen to engage in an illegal slowdown in June and early July. The action forced truck traffic to be backed up for more than a mile and led the two main container-shipping lines that serve the port’s Terminal 6, Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd AG and South Korea’s Hanjin, to divert ships to other ports. Both have resumed their Portland trips, and have ships scheduled to arrive later this week.

A federal judge last month ordered the Longshoremen to work at regular speed, saying the boycott had done “serious economic harm to the region.”

More than 1,000 businesses, primarily in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, depend on the container terminal to get their goods to or from international markets. When ships are diverted and cargo must be rerouted, that adds costs to shippers and harmful delays to companies importing or exporting seasonal or perishable items.

The dispute centers on jobs the electrical workers have done for almost 40 years under a deal with the Port of Portland.