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Kevin Mannix's plan for a public employee port authority will never happen, says Bill Wyatt.



COURTESY: PORT OF PORTLAND - Bill Wyatt disagrees with Mannix on how to bring container traffic back to the Port of Portland's Terminal 6.COURTESY: KEVIN MANNIX - Kevin Mannix is all for a staff of public employees.

In July, former Oregon legislator Kevin Mannix proposed creating the Oregon Shipping Authority.

The authority would take over Terminal 6 from the Port of Portland, and the longshoremen working there would be public employees. The first goal would be to bring back container business to Terminal 6, which fizzled out last year because of a labor dispute and industrial action. The second would be to improve shipping by water, rail and road across the state, and make Oregon a Pacific-gateway.

Mannix and his advocacy group Common Sense for Oregon have a proposal for the Oregon Legislature in 2017. He is looking for feedback, and got some the other day from Port of Portland director Bill Wyatt.

“A shipping authority that combines elements of a state entity and the entrepreneurism of a private company seemed to be a good solution,” Mannix told the Business Tribune, referring to the labor dispute and the dearth of containers ships calling on Terminal 6.

“It’s not going to be a regulatory agency. It’s a planning and support entity, and maybe an entrepreneurial entity that may instigate projects.”

Mannix developed the idea between October and December 2015. “I was looking at the political vacuum, and we as a Pacific Coast state can develop our capability for export and import shipping. No entity was taking the universal perspective in Oregon.”

He calls the Oregon Shipping Authority a way of connecting all the dots.

“Whether it is ships, trucks, barge traffic, short line or long line railroads, we’d look at how does it connect up and how do we get our goods to market, and become an import station for goods coming in from Asian and Pacific markets.”

The OSA would be a public corporation that would take over ownership of Terminal 6. The state already owns the Port of Portland. “We would be slicing out this piece which is already leased to a private sector, ICTSI and transferring it to the OSA.”

He said the OSA would need to see if it could foster a successful relationship between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the private port management company International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI). ICTSI pays rent to the Port of Portland and is in dispute with the ILWU. “We’d see if ICTSI could get the ships moving again.”

COURTESY: PORT OF PORTLAND - Container service was ony 15 percent of the Port of Portlands revenue, and Portland is insignificant compared to ports such as Long Beach, L.A., Seattle and Oakland - hardly worth the Pacific Maritime Association upsetting the apple cart for.

Unions rule

“I’ll just tell you, there will never be a container terminal on the west coast of the United States that is not operated by members of the ILWU, and here’s why,” Port of Portland Director Bill Wyatt told the Tribune Editorial board last week. “There will be no carriers who could call on a terminal like this.”

Wyatt explained that the carriers are all members of the Pacific Maritime Association whose bylaws require them to use only terminals subject to their contract.

“So any carrier who called at a non-compliant terminal in Portland would not find their vessels being worked in Seattle or Tacoma or Oakland or Los Angeles or Long Beach, where the operations are of far greater consequence to them than in Portland.”

“Kevin (Mannix) has been explicit about the idea of changing the container business model, so if the ILWU did not warm to this new approach then the waterfront employees would become state employees.”

Basically, a non-union terminal would be blacklisted by all the carriers and would be completely useless.

“And I think just changing the name on the lease does nothing to change the underlying problem,” added Wyatt. “The world of container shipping has turned on its head. There are 23 carriers and none are presently making money. They’ve all acquired enormous vessels that don’t fit in all the ports and there’s not enough cargo for them.”

He says even if the ILWU, the PMA and ICTSI settled their differences tomorrow it would be a year or two before Portland saw any container activity.

“That’s important to remember when you’re thinking of creating a new agency without any expertise or contacts or knowledge of the global container industry. It’s a complicated business.”

Mannix said that having public employees work the waterfront would not be that different from other essential services, such as in the state mental hospital, public safety, corrections and highways. “Generally I think our public employees in Oregon do a fine job,” Mannix said. “I was a state representative for 10 years and worked with public employees in a wide range of positions, and the vast majority did a fine job. They always need leadership and also proper legislation and proper regulation...”

He adds, “We taxpayers paid for Terminal 6, now it’s standing idle.”

Asked how long the status quo should continue, Mannix laughed and said, “Thirty seconds! It’s unfortunate that the legislature doesn’t meet until January. The Port of Portland will say it’s a duplication, we’re saying it’s a substitution of their ownership of Terminal 6. I can’t see them arguing they’ve been successful: with zero containers moving it can’t get any worse.”

He admits the terminal was successful in 2003.

“The question is what are we going to do to reinstate container shipping, other than wish and hope?”

These new public employees on the dockside, where would they come from?

“I’m not going to make any predictions, you always want to hire people with expertise who are committed to public service and getting the job done,” Mannix said they are already working in Seattle and Tacoma.

“Some are being paid by ICTSI under the guarantee of their current contract, they get a guaranteed minimum. I understand the figure is $78,000 a year, even if there is no work.”

According to the PMA, the average longshoreman salary on the west coast is $142,000 a year.

“I doubt the state compensation system is going to plug in $142,000 a year,” says Wyatt.

If Mannix’s legislation is passed in 2017, he says there will be about four months to form the shipping authority. It would be run by a board of nine directors. They would be chosen by county commissioners from across the state. They would have to have three years experience in imports and exports or shipping or international trade.

“I am not into the blame game — somehow the alignment of stars at Terminal 6 isn’t working, and we’re proposing to change that alignment so there is a new dynamic to the discussion, and that can involve new relationship with the longshoreman union, or with ICTSI,” said Mannix. “But the bottom line is, how do we get container ships running in a reliable and predictable and cost effective fashion?”

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