Longshoremen win jobs at Portland port

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PORTLAND — The dispute over which union workers at the Port of Portland should perform the task of plugging and unplugging refrigerated cargo containers has been resolved.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said Thursday the work will be assigned to International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers.

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.

Port of Portland officials now say that productivity hasn't returned to pre-dispute levels, and that the issue factored into a decision in October by Hanjin Shipping Co. to end its service to Portland early next year. The shipping company, which handles 78 percent of the port's container businesses, announced that it would leave by the end of the year.

The Port of Portland hopes the company will have a change of heart but Bill Wyatt, the port's executive director, has said the union workers need to increase productivity or Hanjin is likely to leave.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union disputes there's a slowdown.

Hanjin's departure would mean that Eastern Oregon exporters would have to pay more to truck containers to Seattle or Tacoma, which cost between $500 and $1,000 per container the last time ships were diverted in summer 2012, the Port of Portland says. Agricultural products such as processed potatoes and onions are all shipped by container. Bulk grain cargo would not be affected, since only 2 percent of Northwest wheat is shipped in containers, according to the U.S. Wheat Associates' West Coast Office.