Layoffs come to call at Lewiston’s Port, Lewiston Tribune, April 9, 2015

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Two employees are losing jobs, a third cut to part time

Two of the four employees at the Port of Lewiston’s container operation are losing their jobs and another is being cut to half time as their employer faces the reality of no longer handling shipping containers.

One employee will remain to cover whatever business the port finds for its dock, and will be assigned other duties, such as maintenance.

The container yard’s scheduler is the employee who is going to part time. She will do bookkeeping and provide technical expertise as the port looks for new customers.

“She knows a heck of a lot more about pricing and moving commodities than I do,” said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld.

The layoffs were announced at Wednesday’s port commission meeting, just one day after Hapag-Lloyd confirmed it would no longer call on the Port of Portland in Oregon. More than a dozen community members and economic development experts attended the meeting, asking questions about the issue or offering to help.

The news prompted the Port of Lewiston to suspend its container operations indefinitely. Hapag-Lloyd shipped most of the containers that originated in Lewiston and traveled the Snake and Columbia rivers to Portland on their way to overseas destinations.

Hapag-Lloyd was one of two remaining container carriers at the Port of Portland, where almost all outbound cargo from the Port of Lewiston goes before being transferred to oceangoing ships. Another, Hanjin, left Portland in March.

Exactly what effect the change will have on the port’s finances is not clear. Doeringsfeld predicts the loss for this fiscal year could be in the neighborhood of $20,000.

By comparison, container operations generated $1.5 million for the port in fiscal years 2007 through 2014, Doeringsfeld said, including $900,000 from megaloads.

It’s too soon to know about next year since the port could find new users for the dock, he said, such as makers of wood pellets, clay or large pieces of equipment like rock pickers that might be rolled on or off a vessel.

Lewiston port commissioners said they have been dealing with the possibility of discontinued container shipping on many fronts.

In one instance, Commissioner Jerry Klemm wrote an email to a labor leader he knows. Klemm asked for the labor leader’s help in seeking a resolution to conflict between union workers and Portland container terminal operator ICTSI Oregon, which has been blamed for slow handling of containers at the Port of Portland. The email recipient, Klemm said, acknowledged the communication.

“The union has sought to improve operations only to be rebuffed by ICTSI management,” International Longshore and Warehouse Union spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent wrote in an email.

“We hope that ICTSI revises its ‘take it or leave it’ approach with their workforce, customers and vendors, because it’s been tremendously hurtful to the entire region,” Sargent wrote.

ICTSI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Lewiston port commission has also brought the issue to the attention of Idaho Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter and Idaho Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould, said Port Commissioner Mary Hasenoehrl.

The hope was they might influence Oregon’s governor, who appoints Port of Portland commissioners, Hasenoehrl said.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been following what’s unfolding at the Port of Portland closely, said Chris Pair, a spokesman at her office in Salem.

“We’re engaged in negotiations,” Pair said. “It isn’t something we just let happen.”

Brown unveiled a $250,000 project Wednesday to compile a list of recommendations for Oregon’s 2016 Legislature to help small- and medium-sized businesses with their transportation challenges.

Regardless of how successful those efforts are, Hasenoehrl said the Port of Lewiston will continue to be relevant.

“We still have a lot of work to do with our economic development,” she said.

In other business, Port of Lewiston commissioners allocated $10,000 for a new public outreach initiative with the ports of Clarkston and Whitman County, which are also contributing $10,000 each.

“The committee shall have the authority to collect and disseminate information and to engage services of consultants and experts on an as-needed basis,” according to a description of the initiative in an agreement approved by all three ports.

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.