Transportation and Oregon – a love/hate relationship – Part 2

In January, I wrote “Part 1” talking about congestion and truck traffic.

Part 2 will focus on an upcoming Bad Bill: Senate Bill 1008.

There’s a lot in the bill that I’d love to take the time to research and discredit. As I’m not a scientist, or a public health official, it would be hard to do so. What I can speak to is this specifically in the first part of the bill, page 2:

Whereas the attrition rate of older, dirty diesel engines that are not retrofitted is too slow to adequately curb emissions in a timely manner and protect public health; and Whereas a strategy to shorten the timeline for conversion to the use of new diesel engines and older diesel engines retrofitted with particulate filters requires a combination of regulations and incentives; and Whereas the incorporation of California’s emission standards for nonroad diesel engines into the Department of Environmental Quality’s existing air quality regulations will benefit public health;

If you don’t want to read my testimony, here’s my point: the diesel-dependent trucking industry is fixing whatever emission problem that may or may not exist. The attrition rate is not too slow. The amount of time and effort the Oregon legislature is putting into this perceived problem will make almost zero difference in any emission standards that wouldn’t have already happened in the course of regular trucking industry’s business decisions over the course of the next few years. An absolute waste of time – at a time that Oregon has many problems it needs to focus on.

If you want to read more in-depth, here is my testimony:


 

Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources

Testimony of Shelly Boshart Davis

Vice President

Boshart Trucking, Inc.

Senate Bill 1008 ~ March 7, 2017

 

Chair Dembrow and Committee – my name is Shelly Boshart Davis. Thank you for allowing me to submit testimony on behalf of our family farm and trucking company. We are a custom farming and trucking business that provides jobs to almost 50 employees. We also export over 2200 containers of Ag exports overseas.

I’m not a scientist, or a statistician, or like collecting or interpreting massive amounts of data. So I’m not going to try to discredit how not-clean or clean our air is. Here’s what I did find:

According to the DEQ, “Overall, air pollution in the Portland area has decreased dramatically over the last 30 years.” CEO of the American Lung Association said, “We are happy to report that the state of our air is much cleaner today than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago.”

And I can tell you about trucks. And our trucking industry is pretty impressive – and just getting better. Diesel-dependent industries are improving on their own. For example, within the last few years, we have upgraded 25% of our port-destination portion of our truck fleet to have the new standard of engines: 2014 Peterbilt and Freightliner trucks. By 2020, we will have had most of our fleet upgraded to new or newer trucks because that’s what businesses and farms and people do – they upgrade over time. Whatever problem or perceived problem exists, it will be rectified. Why burden businesses with extensive costs to implement? Every dollar invested into retrofitting or buying new equipment is one less dollar that I can spend on my employees, that I can spend on garnering new business – that I can help the economy, the families that I employ, and providing food and feed for neighbors, Oregonians and the world.

I had previously testified in opposition to HB 3310 and SB 824 both in 2015, and pulled up these slides from the Department of Environmental Quality found in SB 824’s “meeting materials” in OLIS. Note the extreme low amount of trucks that you are ultimately concerned about. All of this legislation for only 36,537 trucks that are being used in Oregon? And this was from at least 2015 if not older information. The amount shown in the multi-state graph on the left can’t be regulated by the Oregon Legislature anyway. Even if you could, these trucks would have been updated in the next few years by normal business practices. And look at the small piece of the pie that includes Oregon based trucks…

This leads me back to my point: whatever problem we may or may not have – it’s already fixing itself.

 Take a look at how far diesel engines have come and I question why we need the mandates and regulation and legislation. 2010 is a tiny box. What does 2017’s box look like? When is enough, enough?

DEQ 3

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago posted this in 2014:

ACT Research defines the active population of trucks as those trucks still in service that are 15 years of age or younger. The reason for this distinction is that once a vehicle reaches 15 years of age, it becomes much less likely to be used for hauling meaningful amounts of freight over long distances.

Another factor affecting freight rates has been the significant increase in truck prices. Truck prices started increasing in 2002 because of federally mandated diesel emission standards that required the costly development of new engine technologies. ACT Research analysts contend that since 2002 the cost of meeting these standards has added an estimated $30,000 to the cost of a new truck—a price increase of about 31%.

There is yet another factor that is likely to drive up costs for the trucking industry: the projection for a severe shortage of qualified truck drivers. The effects of the shortage, which has been in the making for some time, were somewhat mitigated during the most recent economic downturn. Since then, as freight activity has recovered, the driver shortage has become a more serious problem.

Committee – Currently, the average age of Heavy Trucks is 6 years old. If this trend continues, by 2020, the average age of trucks will be on average 2014 trucks – this is great news! This means that trucking companies are constantly purchasing new equipment because they need reliability (i.e. no breakdowns on the road). We aren’t doing this because of mandates, we are doing this because it’s good business.

Graph - average age of Class 8 vehicles.png

Average age of active population of US Class 8 (Heavy Truck) vehicles

Labor and Fuel are trucking industries two largest costs. Labor is going up as truck drivers are harder and harder to find. According to the Journal of Commerce: Truckload carriers will need to raise driver pay substantially to attract the type of qualified candidates needed to haul freight. On top of that, a host of new driver-related regulations will make hiring truck drivers harder, and more expensive. Because Low Carbon Fuel Standards was recently signed into law, the fuel costs will be going up. I testified in opposition to the LCFS based on the fact that the increase in fuel costs was undetermined. Equipment is always a concern as is cost of doing business and providing a cost-effective service to customers. Mandated equipment upgrades or new purchases cannot be simply absorbed. What will this cost be to small business across the state?

Committee, this hits home to me. I urge you, do not pass this regulation on an industry that the Oregon Legislature recently passed to increase fuel costs (Low Carbon Fuel Standard) to, we’re looking at a possible gas tax in an upcoming transportation package, and who is already struggling with labor force – not to mention our recent and current port struggles… We are not California, we do not have their problems, and our diesel-dependent trucking industry is getting better. Because trucking companies are continuously upgrading their fleets/trucks with stricter emissions controls, older trucks are already being phased out and replaced by the cleaner burning trucks as companies can afford to do so.  Disrupting this process by mandating a costly upgrade is an added burden to businesses and commerce – and more importantly, completely unnecessary.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Ag Story, What’s Yours? A Keynote Address.

One week ago, I had the opportunity to give the keynote address at the 2017 Dunn Carney Ag Summit with fellow agvocate and friend, Brenda Frketich. While there were some unintended laughs (see Brenda’s Nuttygrass blog here), the theme was certain: thank you for listening to our story, but what’s yours and are you willing to share it?

Our hope is that we inspired people to share their story. The agricultural community needs more that do. If you’d like, please read the transcript of our keynote. We’d love to hear your story.

Keynote address follows… thanks for reading!

Shelly: Is that Brenda Frketich? Haven’t I seen you somewhere?

Brenda: Well maybe if you’ve had your TV on in the past few voting cycles…you know a lot of Trump, Hillary…and then there’s farmer Brenda talking about measure 97, a gross receipts sales tax, measure 92,  GMO labeling, measure 84, repealing the Oregon estate tax…you get the drift here.  My name is Brenda Frketich and I’m a third generation farmer from St. Paul.  I grew up farming and after a short hiatus down in Los Angeles to get a business degree from Loyola Marymount University, I found myself wanting to get back on the farm.  In 2006 my dad offered me a position as an intern, and I haven’t looked back.  Today I am the owner operator of Kirsch Family Farms.  I farm 1000 acres alongside my husband Matt, and a team of very dedicated employees.  We farm a variety of crops including hazelnuts, grass seed, wheat, clover, vegetables and vegetable seeds.  Beyond crops we are also raising a few kids, we have two sons, Hoot who is 2, and Davor who is 1. Up here with me today is Shelly Davis.  Shelly, I feel like I see YOUR face everywhere.

Shelly: Sometimes it feels like that! Most likely you would have first seen it when I won America’s Farmers Farm Mom of the Year given by American Agri Women and Monsanto in 2015. Since then I started blogging, and have become more outspoken about the current situation of farming and transportation here in Oregon. I’m at the state capitol too much – as are you – and tend to be involved in different organizations. My name is Shelly Davis, and I’m a third generation farmer from Tangent. Along with two of my siblings, parents and close to 50 employees, we help manage about 1000 acres of grass seed, hazelnuts and wheat. We also run a 34 truck trucking operation hauling agricultural products and bale about 23,000 acres of grass straw that we compress, containerize, and export to Asia as feed for dairy and beef farms. My husband Geoff and I are raising 3 girls, 14, 11 and 9. He manages his family business and he’s a 3rd generation glazer. Running our separate family businesses and raising a family sure keeps us hopping. I mentioned I blog.. you blog too Brenda, called Nuttygrass. Where did you get that name?

Brenda: Well back in 2012 I was at a conference about how to be an advocate for our industry.  I was talking about how I really enjoy writing and how I was already telling stories about farm life, mostly to many of my college friends who grew up in places like Southern California, pretty removed from the farm.  A blog seemed like a great fit, and the speaker, agvocate in her own right, Michele Payn said, “Well you’re a nut and grass farmer, why not call it NuttyGrass?”, and here we are today.  When I started it really was just as simple as telling stories and letting friends keep up with me on my farming adventures, but it has evolved into much more.  

The content that I produce at times can seem fluffy, like just a cute photo, or something very non-controversial, but there are also times that I challenge my readers to take a step back and look at the bigger picture as to why we are really doing what we are to grow our crops.  And that also requires me to take that step back and ask myself, “Why do we do this on our farm?”

From the beginning I decided that I was going to be transparent and that is what I have done.  It’s not always pretty, I have posted some pretty sad and honest posts, but people need to hear that we aren’t just always standing in our fields smiling in the sunshine, there is a reality out there that needs to be understood.  And on our farm it comes with spraying, it comes with pesticides, it comes with risk, losses of crops, and stress.  But also it comes with a great life, hopefully a living, joy at what you can accomplish, and yes even some wins.   

Shelly, your blog is called Daughter of a Trucker – doesn’t sound too farming focused, can you talk more about that?

Shelly: That’s a great question. Our friend Marie Bowers has had her blog since 2011 called Oregon Green and she writes mostly about farming, and you have your blog that also mostly talks about farming. I’ve always been extremely proud of my family’s trucking background on top of our farming history, and it turns out that trucking and transportation in Oregon needed a voice! I started Daughter of a Trucker literally days after the port slowdown started in November of 2014. I found that the general public didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t understand how international container shipping ports worked and why this was such a big problem.

I found my blog to be my voice.

In addition to transportation, I also write about our farm, happenings at the legislature, and items of concern in Oregon in general like the Owyhee Monument talks, which considering today is inauguration day and President Obama did not designate the Owyhee Canyonlands for a monument, I’m going to call that a win for the Natural Resource Community! I mentioned America’s Farmers Farm Mom earlier… Farm Mom is in it’s 8th year, it’s a national program that recognizes women who balances life at home and on the farm with a passion for community and agriculture. I was nominated by someone outside the agricultural and farming community and I would say that connecting with those outside the agricultural audience has been my biggest success in blogging.

I think that’s probably both a struggle and focus for all of us: reaching that outside audience. We can preach to the choir all day long, and I will continue to do that in order to inspire others to do the same, but our goal is to explain our story to those that don’t understand it.

I was absolutely inspired after meeting these other “Farm Mom” nominees from different parts of the country and learning about their struggles and their successes. There’s so many people I’ve met through the country that have literally said “There’s farming in Oregon?” Uh, ya, there is. It’s given me a platform to talk about farming that isn’t corn, soybeans and cotton. That of course is no offense to our new ODA director who has come from Iowa! But like she said, Oregon is diverse and that makes it exciting. It also makes it challenging. Farm Mom gave me the final prompting to get my voice out there as much as possible whether that’s radio, speaking, or blogging. You know, one thing I really struggle with is consistency. I’m more of a passion blogger – when something hits, I write about it. But, you are a consistent blogger, and I think that’s amazing. It takes quite a commitment doesn’t it?

Brenda: It does take a lot.  Being consistent while connecting with all types of people is the balance that I try to achieve.  I want those who, I like to say wear all kinds of shoes to find value in what I share.  I say that because my non-farmer friends and I often joke about how different our lives are.  While I am wearing muck boots out in a field many of them are wearing heels and working behind a computer everyday.  Then some days we are just moms and have our tennis shoes on because quite frankly our kids are becoming increasingly faster than we are.  I want to hit on all of that, on the life of a working woman, the life of a farmer, and the life of a mom.  


Because of that I can go from posting a photo of my kiddos playing out in the field, to writing about GMO’s and people still come back to read even if they really only liked the photo of my kids.  I want to bridge the gap that exists where people connect to me in one way but then assume things about my profession as a “farmer” and how I farm.  I want my readers to know that yes, I’m a mom, yes, I go grocery shopping, yes, I have to make healthy food decisions for my family, of course, I don’t like the idea of being poisoned, of course I want to take care of the environment.  Then I go to work as a farmer, and I take on the responsibility of growing safe & healthy food and of taking care of the land.  I want people to see that regardless of the shoes that I wear throughout my day, none of my basic beliefs change.  After I have gained their trust and some understanding, I can then hit on some of those bigger issues.

Shelly: What kind of bigger issues are you talking about?

Brenda: These days it seems like I get a lot of people sending me articles asking what I think about everything from GMO’s and pesticide, to water quality and organic farming.  Many times I can use this as blog content, instance when a friend of ours, Anna Scharf, tagged us in a photo on Facebook about herbs at Fred Meyer that were labeled, “non-GMO”.  We saw it as an opportunity to connect with our local grocers and let them know that there are actually no GMO herbs, so really there is no need to label them!  

Or when people became unglued because there was a blog on why wheat is now toxic and is slowly killing all of us because we are all spraying it with Roundup right before harvest.  I wrote on how we treat our wheat, when we spray roundup, and why it’s a good tool for us.  

Those are just two examples.  Shelly, what are some of the bigger issues you have covered in your advocacy work?

Shelly: It seems my pieces on the ports and labor slowdowns garnered a lot of national attention and led to being able to talk to big publications like The Economist and the Wall Street Journal. I say this not to ask for kudos but because it goes to show that what I know – what you know – is not only valuable, but the information that you and I might take for granted because we grew up doing it, is so necessary to be heard on a much greater stage. Oregon agriculture, our economy, and transportation both locally and internationally is more entwined than we thought, and now we’re realizing. It. You mentioned your response to the Toxic Wheat blog post. That blog that you wrote made it onto the Huffington Post, which is crazy! But, isn’t that what we want? Our story to be shared in hopes that it gives the outside world a different perspective, a farmers perspective. 


One thing I’ve noticed by putting myself out there… I’ve learned a lot. Because I need to know my stuff if I’m going to write about it! I’m sure you’re the same. Do you get contacted a lot because of your blogs and topics you write about or the fact that you’ve been a face to campaigns?

Brenda: I do get contacted pretty regularly for many different opportunities.  And I often get asked how I was found, especially with some of the very public media campaigns I’ve been a part of.  A large piece of that comes down simply to just being a good source for the media.  Now I realize the media can be tricky because as much as we love to hate them, they are necessary and do play an important role in how we are viewed by the public.  So if I’m contacted I always try to get a certain amount of information before answering any questions.  Who are they, who do they work for, what is the story about, who else are they interviewing, what is their deadline.  Then before I answer anything I pull up google and make sure this is someone I want to talk to.  Make very sure that this article doesn’t have a chance to misinterpret myself, my farm, or agriculture as a whole.  Obviously there will be mistakes that happen, I have been misquoted at times, but having those relationships is important.  And being a good source does not go unnoticed.

Beyond media work however, I always take advantage of any outreach I can.  For instance I try to take every opportunity to invite people to come and tour our farm.  When I give presentations I never hesitate to mention that we have an open door policy at Kirsch Family Farms.  I have given a fair amount of tours just because someone called me up, sometimes even years after they heard me speak, and asked to bring a group out to see what we are up to.  I know Shelly does the same, and we extend that same invite to all of you here today.  

Testifying at the legislature and having that type of involvement is no different.  If you want to know what’s going on, if you want to have the opportunity, then join the organizations who support us.  Not unlike the media looking for a good source, groups in agriculture are always looking for people to come and help support their efforts.  Let people know you’re interested and they will come knocking at your door, at times almost knocking down your door to help them out.

The end result of this, thanks to social media and our level of connectivity in today’s world, we are all able to go beyond the one facebook meme, the one tweet about harvest, the one blog post about growing up on a farm and share online to extend agriculture’s reach.  We want to be telling our story, we don’t want anyone else to do it, because they will inevitably get it wrong.     

Shelly, what do you think?  How do you feel about being contacted?

Shelly: You know the saying, “ignorance is bliss”, well it’s true. I wouldn’t say it bothers me. It’s kind of a love/hate relationship. I’ve also learned that I can say no if it doesn’t fit within my time that is needed for family and work. Recently I learned from Senator Betsy Johnson that you have to keep going and talk to both sides of the aisle, and to be that person your legislator knows they can go to for information. I’m always honored to be someone a person trusts for good information. And this cliché also rings true: “If I don’t do it, then who?” The farming community has an incredible story to tell and some are better storytellers than others. But that doesn’t mean that every story isn’t valuable, and like Brenda said, you are the best person at telling your story. The more voices that are out there, the stronger the farming, ranching and timber industries can be! If we doubled or tripled our presence on Social Media, in the Capitol, or in the newspaper, think how strong the Natural Resource Community can be!

I know there are a few college-age attendees here today, and possibly some younger or beginning farmers. To you, I want to speak directly and I say this to FFA and 4-H kids all the time. Join us, you are more than welcome to this big group called Agriculture. I want you to know that we are your biggest cheerleaders. We want you to try, knowing you will fail at times, but that we are here to help you along. Maybe it’s getting up in front to speak somewhere, maybe it’s trying to figure out what crop to plant next year, or it’s working towards your degree in vet medicine. Whatever it is, I believe you’ll find encouragement wherever you look in this community.

Brenda –  Alright so…here’s a question that I know both Shelly and I hear all the time, “Shelly, what is it like being a women in ag?”

Shelly: Well, our friend Marie states it best: probably feels a lot like a man in Ag. Which is true, but I’d be remiss to not acknowledge some challenges. Those being children, trying to fit it all in, and not being the traditional face of a farmer. I would also suggest that being a woman in Ag is similar to being a woman in any traditionally male-dominated industry, namely trucking, military, construction and others. Our story isn’t that different than theirs. I’ve been known to say I’m always excited to see women in Ag do great things, but I look forward to the day it’s not a headline.
img_7372

I read a blog called The Dirt this week and the author wrote about this topic, she says: “The conversation should no longer be about being a woman in ag. It’s about being in agriculture PERIOD.” Kudos to Oregon, but I think we’ve been at this point for a while now, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m grateful for the hard working women that came before us and recognize that everyone has a different story. Mine is different than Brenda’s and our roles are different on our farms. But don’t you think Brenda, there are a many of us that have similar stories, and it typically starts with “my dad treated me like any other boy on the farm.” I can say that is true for me and my 3 sisters, and I have girlfriends that will say the same. Our former First Lady Michelle Obama has said: “Change happens when a father realizes the potential of his daughter.” I applaud the ag community for that. I also think that women have some natural traits that make us very valuable in the natural resource community – many of those are the same reason Farmer Brenda has been the face of campaigns, simply put, she’s a mom.

And Brenda, maybe you should point out the obvious?

Brenda: What? That there are two women up here right now?  

It’s true, being a woman is different in many respects but many of our challenges aren’t because we’re women, they are because we are working in a state that continues to be so unfriendly to businesses.  

Personally yes, I’m a mom, but I’m also a business owner. Not only am I the HR department, I’m the secretary, I’m the safety trainer, I am the tractor driver, sprayer operator.  I’m who my employees come to when if they get hurt on the job, it’s my name on the operating line, but I’m also the one they come to when they need more toilet paper in the bathroom or pop in the pop machine.  One of the biggest challenges I face to be honest, is wearing all those hats.

Legislators and agencies think it’s just one more form to fill out, one more thing to track such as unpaid sick time, or they say to me, “well there’s only three different ways we count employees in this state so that shouldn’t be so hard.  Right?!”  And maybe it’s not hard for that one thing, but it’s the one thing on top of a million things that is asked of us as employers here in Oregon.  Not to mention that at times it also lacks the common sense that we have built our businesses on for generations.  Which makes it an even tougher pill to swallow.

But then there is always the hat of being a mom that we have hit on already, and that just adds a whole other layer to the balancing act that Shelly and I sometimes struggle with, but have found that by working together, some days we can hit it out of the park!

Shelly: Remember the time you needed to speak to the legislature on behalf of Farm Bureau regarding pesticide usage a few years back? You were pregnant and Hoot was 1. You had no childcare that day, but knew how important it was to testify. I’m pretty sure Kathy Hadley and I took care of Hoot while you testified. You were tired, you were busy, and you needed help. But you did it because we all needed you to. And one of the reasons you were able to do it is because you had people supporting you and friends to help you out. The point is, advocating on behalf of the entire agriculture industry can be exhausting and take up too much time. You do it, I do it, we do it, because it benefits us, our farm, and even more importantly our future farm.


Brenda: Thank you Shelly for saying that – and as a woman, as a mom, as an advocate I would like to thank you all for your support.  It’s truly an honor to be up here in front of an audience of farmers, those who are working in our industry, and those of you who support us day in and day out.  Farming is not just a job but a way of life.  It’s a way of life that is hard to explain, exhausting in its ability to encompass your whole outlook, and also rewarding as hell at the end of the day.   I wish I could come up here after all of these speakers today and have Shelly and I list off the reasons why it’s going to be so easy to farm in Oregon moving forward, but business wise, I don’t think that is our reality.  I think our fight is always just beginning, always changing, and always being challenged.  

My story started with coming back to the farm after living in Los Angeles and getting a much different look at a life away from St. Paul, town of 322.  It continued with my passion for an industry that seemed to the public to have a lack of transparency.  And has continued to evolve as I became a mom, as I grew as a farmer and as a business woman.

So what is your story?  To the farmers in the room today, as only 2% of the population, your life is a story within itself!  Every day that you head out into your fields is an opportunity that you can use to do something as simple as taking a photo and sharing it.  I can promise you, that photo of your everyday will look like heaven on earth to those folks stuck behind a desk browsing their facebook page.  And for all of you who aren’t farmers, but I know work hard for our industry, you’re not off the hook.  We need you to share our story, we need you to help us get our message across.  We need your reach.

The challenges that we face sometimes seem to be incredibly daunting.  But I also know that my grandpa, the first generation on our farm had challenges ahead of him every day that his feet hit the soil, as did my dad, and they were both resilient.  My only hope, is for a future here, where my two boys as the fourth generation will have the opportunity to be just as dirty with the dust from our fields as I did.  But we need an industry that is willing to work, not just for their own farm, but for their industry.  

Shelly: I’m glad Brenda mentions her grandpa, because my story almost always includes my grandpa too on so many levels. My dad has said to me many times: “Shelly, Grandpa Merrill worked hard, I worked hard, and we just kept our heads down and kept to ourselves. We thought working hard was enough and that our elected officials and the community around us were grateful for our work and were like minded.” I’m standing here today to say that is not the case any longer. If my past generations had been more outspoken, would we be where we are today? I can’t say. But I do know this is where we are and I have a simple, yet great ask: Please – will you get involved? We need you. Every person out there – each and every one of you – has a passion for agriculture in some form, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.

You are smart, you are passionate, and we need you.

You might not want to speak in front of people, I get that. But maybe you can write a letter, maybe you can make a phone call, maybe you can join a local commission, a county farm bureau. Brenda and I know a lot about what we do, but Oregon Agriculture is so much bigger than that.

I have an action item for you: I want each and every one of you to do at least one thing that you didn’t do last year. Go to a county farm bureau meeting, go to the capitol and watch a public hearing with someone you know, submit testimony during the upcoming legislative session, read about the Adopt A Farmer program and maybe sign up for it!, join your local Oregon Women for Ag chapter, start a Twitter account and show your farm story – the opportunities are endless.        

We both appreciate you listening to our story today, and our great hope is that it inspires you to tell yours.

Transportation and Oregon – a love/hate relationship – Part 1

Transportation isn’t sexy. And when it works, no one talks about it. We fly under the radar for the most part. Now, it seems that every time you turn around, someone is talking about transportation. It could be congestion in Portland, the Port of Portland, container exports, trucks on the road, CARB (California Air Resource Board), LCFS (Low Carbon Fuel Standard), or the upcoming transportation package the Oregon Legislature is going to tackle in the 2017 Legislative Session.

If you are reading this from a state that has transportation figured out – I envy you! Us Oregonians seem to be on the struggle bus these days. (Transportation pun intended!)

I spoke at the Oregon Seed League convention last month and updated everyone on current issues regarding exports, transportation and Port of Portland. In fact, there were two agenda items dealing with transportation and port issues! I told the audience: “I’ll bet you’re looking forward to the day we stop talking about transportation.” It got a few laughs, but I’ll take it. I’m really not that funny.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a laughing matter. Also unfortunate is the amount of misinformation out there when it comes to transportation, trucking, and ports. I’d like to tackle a few of those here.

  1. CONTAINER TRUCKS AREN’T CAUSING CONGESTION IN PORTLAND.

What? I know I know, you’ve been told it’s container trucks, and it seems like it would make sense because of the Port of Portland not having container service at Terminal 6 any longer. But it’s not. Did you know: Only 200 out of 120,000 vehicles are related to containers moving to ports other than the Port of Portland. Trucks aren’t going anywhere they haven’t gone before.

portland-congestion-facts

But but but… congestion! Yes, Portland is awful. And it doesn’t appear to be getting any better. But it’s not trucks. It’s cars. Next time you’re in traffic, take a look around. You notice the trucks because they’re big rigs. But, compare the number of trucks to the vast amount of cars. And how many of those cars are single passenger?

When is Portland the worst? Rush hour. When are container trucks driving to or through Portland? I can guarantee you, it’s not rush hour. If we get caught in rush hour traffic, it’s because something has gone wrong at a terminal somewhere. We leave our plant early enough to miss rush hour in Portland, and we are typically back before rush hour in the afternoon. Does this always work every day? No, but, for the most part, we’re not stuck in rush hour traffic.

What’s the real problem? Traffic congestion increased recently along the Portland metro-area roadways. Vehicle volumes have increased 6.3% over volumes from last year. This increase is nearly twice the national average. The rise in vehicle volumes means that roads are running at or near capacity during the peak hours, commute times are growing longer, and driver frustration is building. Growth on the system is due to new users. The number of out-of-state drivers’ licenses increased to approximately 85,000 in 2015. In addition, a drop in unemployment means more people heading to and from work. Lower gas prices than one year ago also makes it less expensive to travel. (Information from Oregon Department of Transportation)

For more information on what ODOT is doing to help the traffic and congestion problems crippling Portland, click on info-graphs above.

2. IS THERE INCREASED TRUCK TRAFFIC ON I-5 SINCE PORTLAND LOST CONTAINER SERVICE?

trucks-on-road

Short answer, yes, there is increased traffic on the roads. And we are some of those trucks on the road. We also utilize Northwest Container Service (NWCS, a remote container yard) located in Portland. NWCS then rails containers north to the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. We can drop off and pick up containers at NWCS, but they cannot handle all of our volume, and there are increased risks to only using NWCS (namely less ability to have on-time delivery). So, as part of our business strategy to keep our shipments on time and to best service our customers, we deliver to a combination of NWCS, and ports of Tacoma and Seattle. If and when Portland brings back container service, we will use Terminal 6 at Port of Portland. Diversification is a key strategy in being successful in the strange world of international container shipping.

In summary, yes there are more trucks on the road because Terminal 6 at Port of Portland lost container service… but don’t blame the Portland traffic and congestion problems on trucks. These are 2 separate problems that really don’t have anything to do with one another.

I love and appreciate trucks and the truck drivers that deliver 75% of our goods to us. In fact, I think it’s time to thank a trucker. Today and every day. It’s not an easy job, and those that safely do their job day in and day out, you are appreciated. thank-a-trucker-1

If you’d like to learn more about the Port of Portland and why Terminal 6 is different than the rest of the terminals on the West Coast, you can read more here

There’s so much more to talk about in regards to transportation in Oregon! I know, so exciting… but for those of you who are interested, stay tuned for Part 2!

Unfortunately: “I told you so.”

I started this blog in November 2014 because I needed an outlet and a platform to explain to the general public the possibility of economic tragedy on the west coast if the status quo was allowed to continue. I’ll be extremely brief: the west coast port slowdown was the result of a failure to collectively bargain between the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association). Collective bargaining absolutely and categorically FAILED the United States. It failed the import/export business on the west coast especially. It failed American agriculture that relies on an efficient transportation system to get its superior goods to market. And in essence it failed the American economy. It’s failure is my reality.

One of the main theme’s of my advocacy on this issue is this, and stated in this blog post:

Oregon’s Agriculture is NECESSARY for the continued strength of the state. But if we can’t get it to market, then what good is any of it?

I would suggest the same for American agriculture. According to a Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress report:

“The agricultural sector makes an important contribution to the U.S. economy, from promoting food and energy security to supporting jobs in communities across the country. Exports are critical to the success of U.S. agriculture, and population and income growth in developing countries ensures that this will continue to be the case in the decades to come. U.S. agricultural exporters are well positioned to capture a significant share of the growing world market for agricultural products, but some challenges remain. Taking actions to facilitate exports would help to strengthen the agricultural sector and promote overall economic growth.”

The AgTC (Agriculture Transportation Coalition) has been stating this for years:

“There is nothing that we produce in this country in agriculture, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. We can grow the best in the world, but if we can’t deliver affordably and dependably, the customer will go somewhere else…                                        and may never come back”.

The theme here is obvious and overwhelmingly simple: for the sake of America’s economy, our ports need to work efficiently and productively.

And then this article drops today: Chinese Goods Bypass California.

 

Ports 1

Wall Street Journal: Chinese Goods Bypass California

Let me explain this in simple terms. Let’s say Fred Meyer’s is your favorite grocery store, but for some reason the traffic is horrible specifically in front of that store. One mile down the road, there is a Safeway with no traffic and has easy access. It’s a little harder to get there, but you start going to Safeway because it is efficient to do so. If Fred Meyer’s fixes the traffic problem, do you go back? Maybe. But also maybe do you stay with Safeway because you like the store and you’re now used to it? Possibly.

This is what the Wall Street Journal article speaks to. The west coast ports has a traffic problem. The east coast ports do not. China is choosing to spend a little more time and effort to ship into the east coast ports. And they might just find they are easier to work with. Will they make the move? Maybe. Will they ever come back? Maybe.

Anyone want to take this risk? I don’t. But it’s not up to me.

I’m going to be frank. The only person or entity that can take on the ILWU and the PMA is the President of the United States and the United States Government. I tend to be an optimist, but the fact that my hope is in the U.S. Government isn’t appealing and leaves me with a sense of hopelessness. I’m a believer in the Free Market. But, collective bargaining isn’t typically conducive to the free market. It’s ugly out there folks.

I could blather on for another couple hours about global trade routes and manufacturing in Asia moving east, ultimately making it easier to move product into the east coast ports of the U.S. Considering 2/3 of the population lives in the eastern U.S., this sounds like a good idea. What happens to our empty containers that we need to load for export on the west coast if all the containers are on the east coast? Even those not familiar with agriculture knows we can’t move our 250 different crops from Oregon to Kentucky. Also, I would suggest the southeastern states are more conducive to this little word: business. That is all for another discussion on another day.

My point: Let’s not give ship lines any more reason to bypass the west coast ports. I feel like I’ve said this too much lately, but: Wake Up America.


 

For more background information, visit my previous blogs on the West Coast Port Slowdown.

Why this affects you.

Day 29… and counting.

AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition

Port Crisis 101: history of, where we stand, and a little of my own opinion…

The battle continues… West Coast port crisis not over.

Port Crisis? Still. Not. Over.

1-Year Recap of the West Coast Port Crisis – the ship that sailed

1-Year Recap of the West Coast Port Crisis – the ship that sailed

At this time, one year ago, any truck delivering containers to a West Coast port knew something was up. Terminals were slow, truck lines were long, communication between terminals and trucking companies was confusing. As an exporter, our greatest fear of that time was coming to the forefront of our world: the contract between the ILWU and the PMA that had expired on June 30, 2014 and was still being negotiated “in faith” had come to a tipping point. Multiple times did both sides confirm cargo would continue moving during negotiations – see Press Releases here – when in fact, that ended up being untrue.

By day 5 of the “West Coast Port Crisis”, I already knew what was going on – and knew that the only answer to this problem lay high above one person, one industry, or one state government. See my synopsis on November 7, 2014 here. If you want more history on the crisis, I wrote many blog posts throughout the crisis at my blog: www.DaughterofaTrucker.com.

Where are we now?

Our export industry is struggling. The impact on every industry is different. For the industry I’m involved in, grass straw exports, because of last year’s crisis and exporters not being able to get their forage to market, we had an oversupply by the time our next crop came around. For the Christmas Tree industry, we’ll see in the next month whether they lost their customers from not being able to fulfill orders last year. Washington apples lost millions in sales – one person calling it the “worst year in her career”. Will they recover, and what business did they lose?

The problem is due to two factors: the apple crop is the state's largest on record, and labor disputes at the state's ports resulted in apples sitting for too long.

The problem for the loss in apples was due to two factors: the apple crop is the state’s largest on record, and the port dispute resulted in apples sitting for too long.

I asked a colleague who is involved in international trade for his perspective as an Oregonian living in Hong Kong, Shaun Harris. He shares the following:

Usually in Hong Kong, grocery stores have produce and food items from the US. When the port slowdown happened, suddenly you couldn’t get celery and lettuce from California for instance. You couldn’t get Almond milk or Tillamook cheese from Oregon. But soon enough, those spaces were filled with Australian and European goods. (Turns out the French make a pretty good cheddar cheese.) Go back into the store today and most of those items haven’t changed back to the US product. I’m sure you’ll see the same thing playing out all over the world.

On a professional side, we spent months apologizing to customers for lack of shipments, seeing Japan’s MAFF writing USDA a letter asking them to figure it out, then a deluge of shipments once they made it out of the gridlock. Soon after, everyone was fighting overstock and soon accumulating inventories on the US side caused market prices to erode. From which, they still haven’t recovered.

Oregon Christmas Trees which were so heavily promoted here in Hong Kong ended up being cancelled and customers who ordered them got their money back.

As you can see, this was not and is not a problem that has been fixed. Just because the contract was finally “tentatively signed” in February 2015 and later ratified, the long term ramifications are very real and aren’t going away. How many U.S. companies lost customers and/or business that may or may not get them back? What was the cost to these companies? How much of the economy was hurt in the US because of the monopoly the PMA and ILWU has over all of us? What can be done to ensure this does not happen again?

Liberty Street Economics blogThese questions are impossible to answer. It’s possible the GDP of the United States suffered for the first quarter of 2015 because of the West Coast Port Crisis – just the fact it is even in question should be a wake up call for Congress, for our President, for the American people. Can you even believe it? The crisis was so bad it affected the Gross Domestic Product of the United States of America. It is baffling our administration allowed this to go on for so long.

Any help on the horizon?

Maybe. The Transportation Bill is currently being debated in Congress. Amendments to this bill include asking for port metrics to be gathered, as well as asking the GAO (Government Accountability Office) to study the effects of the port crisis are all being looked at. In addition, Congressman Newhouse (WA) will be introducing the ECONOMICS Act (Ensuring Continued Operations and No Other Major Incidents, Closures, or Slowdowns Act);  this puts in place specific “triggers,” so that when certain economic impacts surrounding a dispute occur, a Board of Inquiry must be convened, and the Board is required to report to the President and the public to recommend whether there should be a judicial injunction. There are other bills that have already failed, and I believe there are more still to come.

Can Congress fix this problem? Absolutely not, nor would I want them to. But, in the current monopoly of the PMA and the ILWU, we will need the US Government to have the information in the future if this happens again. Changing law in order to have this information for future use is imperative. I applaud specifically Congressman Reichert and Congressman Newhouse in Washington, as well as Congressman Schrader and Senator Wyden in Oregon for listening to their constituents and being instrumental in ending last year’s crisis as well as moving forward to help US trade on the West Coast.

Any other ideas?

In the words of my uncle Allan: Move to Texas. More importantly and seriously, please stay involved, stay informed, and continue to monitor the life around you. I love our state of Oregon, I love the west coast (West Coast, best coast!), and I love the United States. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it perfect. Thank you for reading.

Tick tock, tick tock… Harvest is around the corner!

Baler_Word Swag

Where did the time go? I don’t know if you realize this, but it’s May 14th. And to us in Oregon and in the grass seed industry, that means harvest is right around the corner. So how did I get to middle of May and not realize it? Hmmmmm… let’s see…..

The WC Port Crisis began in November, and many think it is over and have moved on. For those of us truckers and exporters, we are very aware it is not over. (See my previous blogs on the subject if interested). The contract will be ratified on May 22nd we believe, but the congestion at Ports of Tacoma and Seattle as well as the remote container yard at Northwest Container Services is very real. Daily we still struggle with repercussions from the long-term slowdown. The cost to trucking companies, farmers, and exporters have been huge. Our “new normal” is right around the corner, and I wonder what that will look like for us Oregon farmers, trucking companies, and exporters.

Trucks Seattle 3

Trucks waiting in extreme congestion at Port of Seattle

The Oregon legislative session has been a nightmare. The anti-business, anti-rural, anti-agriculture consistent themes have been one that demands the average farmer, businessperson and Oregonian to speak out like never before. Read a friend’s perspective on this here at www.oregongreenblog.com. I personally have been to the state capitol 3 times to testify against the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, diesel emission regulations, and minimum wage public hearings. Here is another friend’s perspective on the Minimum Wage bills here at www.nuttygrass.com. Many, many more bills that are important to us farmers and small businesses: legislated pesticide usage, mandatory PTO, mandatory flexible scheduling, BOLI “cease and desist” bills, and more. Countless letters, phone calls, and emails have been sent speaking out about these and making sure my local representation knows my thoughts on these matters. If you are reading this outside Oregon and are shocked that we’re dealing with all of this at one time, I agree – it’s almost unbelievable. Lastly, a local measure, Measure 2-89 in Benton County wants to ban all usage of GMO in the county. If this passes, a terrible precedent will be set for remaining counties.

NoOn2-89logo@2x

I coached a local club volleyball team through BOSS Volleyball. Yes, I coach volleyball. And love it! The courts are actually laid in one of our straw barns. As soon as we get the straw out of this particular barn, the club comes in and lays “sport court”. 6 different teams practiced 2x/week every week. Throw in 1-2 tournaments on the weekends every month, and well suffice to say I was quite busy. My daughter Kyndall was on my team, and it was a great opportunity to spend extra time with her and watch her and her friends grow as athletes. If you want my opinion on athletics and coaching – it’s a dying breed of coaches that feel we are teaching kids how to become better adults through sports. So many people have lost site of this – parents and coaches alike, and competition sometimes gets in the way. I saw this at every tournament. If you can ever find the time to volunteer as a local coach, I urge you to do so. It is one way to help our kids become contributing members of society, instilling teamwork, attitude and hard work into their core. Pretty soon, it becomes natural to use this hard work and positive attitude into every avenue of their life. A win for all!

At the BOSS Barn

At the BOSS Barn

Community Outreach – near and dear to my family’s heart. We’re part of Adopt A Farmer program through the AgriBusiness Council. We bring 180 6th-graders from Memorial Middle School in Albany, Oregon, to our farm. We had 5 stations to show them different aspects of our farm and businesses: 1) My brother, Farmer Amos, showed the kids about straw storage and even let them run the hay squeeze! 2) A local farmer, Farmer Ryan Glaser of Mid-Valley Farms, showed the kids our hazelnut orchards and taught them all about Oregon’s Hazelnuts. 3) My dad, Farmer Stan, showed the kids all of our equipment – from windrowers and combines to tractors, spray buggies and balers. But, I think Coach the Dog stole the show on this station! 4) Our Operations Manager, Farmer Eric, took the kids through the mechanic shop – starting with the truck scales where they weighed themselves as a group all at once, and finished talking about tires – some of them twice the height of the kids! – with the help of Terry, our local Les Schwab guy! 5) The final station was mine – and I showed the kids how we press the bales, containerize them and ship them overseas to customers. I explained the opportunities and challenges of working in an international marketplace, but they were more concerned about the money from around the world laid out on the table! In case you didn’t know, kids LOVE money. 🙂

Farmer Amos talking about straw bales

Farmer Amos talking about straw bales

Farmer Eric weighing kids on the truck scale

Farmer Eric weighing kids on the truck scale

Farmer Ryan talking about Oregon Hazelnuts

Farmer Ryan talking about Oregon Hazelnuts

In addition to Adopt A Farmer, we are involved with the local Albany Chamber of Commerce, bringing out their Youth Leadership and Trades Academy programs for tours on our farm. Lastly, we are involved with the Oregon Women for Agriculture and work on many projects including this great advertisement rolling down our highways and biways! Our Boshart Trucking trucks proudly haul this trailer all over Oregon – the response to it has been awesome! We love promoting “almost everything starts on a farm or ranch!”

OWA wrap_Word Swag

Then there was this little thing called Farm Mom. I laugh at that, because truly it was a huge deal! I found out on April 16th that I was the NW division winner of America’s Farmers Farm Mom of the Year! I flew to St. Louis April 22-24, at that time a national online vote was started. I found out last Thursday, May 7th, that I had the most votes and became the National Farm Mom of the Year. I know it’s a funny title, but I honestly couldn’t have picked a better one – Farm Mom, my favorite two titles for my life. I wrote a little about this in my last blog: The Most Important Crop I Grow… My Children. Along the way, I met 4 incredibly impressive women: Amy Kelsay, a dairy farmer from Indiana; Megan Seibel, a wine-grape grower and cattle farmer from Virginia; Shelley Heinrich, a cotton farmer from Texas; and Sara Ross, a corn farmer and member of Common Ground. Sara also blogs – you should check out here: Sara’s House – farm to table to you. Meeting these women in person, along with past Farm Mom’s through phone and email, I’m very grateful to be part of one incredible group.

Farm Mom_Word Swag

So, that’s where my last 6 months went! And now we’re gearing up for 2015 harvest – my favorite time of year! Gearing up for it takes a coordinated effort, and we’re in the thick of it now! Ready or not, here we go! Bring it on!

Port Crisis? Still. Not. Over.

Are you incredulous by this title, that we are still talking about this? You thought this was over, contract was signed? If you know me, or are an importer or exporter, or have trucks at the ports – then you know the day-in, day-out problems we are still having and knows that this crisis is far from over.

On February 20th, most of the US let out a collective sigh of relief – from the White House down to the lowly grass straw shipper. A contract had been signed! What we learned quickly is that this was a tentative agreement, needing to be ratified by both the PMA and the ILWU. Us shippers learned immediately that our constant state of chaos changed – but did not get any better. Wait times at ports for our trucks still exist to this day, congestion at the terminals is extreme, and communication from the ship lines to exporters and importers remain a “best guess.”

Approximately 90 leaders of the ILWU from the entire West Coast will met in a “Caucus” next week to review the contract. Should they decide to recommend that the contract be agreed upon, it will be submitted to the ILWU Rank and File for a 90 days review. And then a vote by secret ballot.

And then the following Journal of Commerce article comes out last night. I read this morning, and can’t do much except shake my head.

Militant ILWU faction calls for contract to be rejected

A group that calls itself the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee will sponsor a rally at 7 p.m. Pacific time on March 31 outside of the international headquarters of the ILWU on Franklin Street in San Francisco. According to a flyer distributed by the committee, six active or retired ILWU members will address the rally.

The committee spares no words in saying that it does not support the tentative coastwide agreement that was reached on Feb. 20 by the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association. “Left unchecked, it will gut the ILWU’s coastwide power and bury the last militant union in the U.S.,” the flyer states.

The tentative five-year contract maintains full employer-paid medical benefits. Longshoremen will retire with a pension that tops out at $88,800 a year. Hourly wage increases are more generous than in other contracts dating back to the 1980s. According to the PMA, full-time longshoremen last year earned on average $147,000. The hourly wage in the last year of the contract will increase to $42.18, but many longshoremen work in jobs that pay skill or overtime differentials that increase the base wage by 15 to 30 percent.

Citing the ILWU’s “proud history of class struggle and the fight for democratic principles codified in the Ten Guiding Principles,” the solidarity committee accused the ILWU leadership of flouting those principles, “using top-down control to direct longshore workers to cross picket lines and keep contract negotiations secret.” The ILWU headquarters declined to comment on the flyer.

The flyer plays loose with certain facts. It accuses the PMA of providing JOC.com with a copy of the contract. While the JOC in fact received a copy of the tentative contract, it was not provided by the PMA or any of its members.

The committee charges that the tentative contract gives employers “a free hand to automate without counter demands of shorter shifts tied to wage increases.”  In fact, the 2002 coastwide contract gave employers the right to utilize computers and information technology at their discretion, and the 2008 contract gave employers the right to introduce automated cargo-handling equipment.

The lengthy and contentious negotiations did include demands by ILWU locals for extra manning in Northern California and a guarantee of 10 hours of pay for eight hours of work for ILWU mechanics in Southern California, but those demands were turned down in the negotiation process.

In possibly the most bitter comment in this short commentary, the flyer said the tentative agreement “follows on the tail of the concessionary grain contracts at EGT and the Northwest Grain agreements.” Some forces within the union are still livid over grain contracts in 2012-13 that were negotiated by the ILWU and grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest. The international grain companies that negotiated those contracts are not members of the PMA and the grain contracts are separate from the coastwide contract.

Since the ILWU has nowhere near the leverage over the international grain companies that it has over shipping lines, the grain contracts are considered more employer-friendly in that they make it virtually impossible for the ILWU to engage in work slowdowns that give union negotiators huge leverage in contract negotiations as well as in the handling of health, safety or work-rule claims during the life of the contract.

Jurisdiction was a sticking point in the negotiations that went on for nine months and led to massive delays up and down the coast. The tentative contract grants jurisdiction to the ILWU to inspect and repair most chassis before they leave the marine terminals, even though PMA-member shipping lines no longer own the chassis.

The tentative contract will also establish a three-member panel in each of the port regions to adjudicate the health and safety and work-rule disagreements that arise frequently on the waterfront. Instead of having just one local arbitrator in Seattle-Tacoma, Portland, Oakland and Los Angeles-Long Beach as is now the case, each panel will include a member nominated by the ILWU, one by the PMA and a third who is a member of either the Federal Mediation and Conciliation service or the American Arbitration Association.

The battle continues… West Coast port crisis not over.

It’s not time to pour the champagne just yet. “Ship” hit the main-stream news fan late last week when Labor Secretary Tom Perez game both sides until Friday to settle the dispute or he would ship them off to DC to continue talks downstream from the White House. All puns intended. When news broke Friday evening that a contract had been tentatively signed, my Twitter blew up. Anyone not completely familiar with how things work thought this was over. Far from it. I know of both Ports of Oakland and Portland have both had skirmishes over the weekend. Apparently Local 10 in Oakland was found guilty of work stoppages. And the Hanjin Copenhagen is yet to sail from Terminal 6 at Port of Portland! That ship has been sitting for 19 days… We have 45 containers sitting on dock still waiting to load. Some of those containers have been there since January 15th. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this is hurting the small businessman and farmer alike.

For a timely update aired by the Ag Information Network, see here.

Shippers have a very tough road head of them. Ship lines are trying to clear the backlog at whatever means necessary. We are fighting every day to keep ahead of schedules, getting trucks to port within the very short time-frame we are given – and us Oregonian businesses and farms are now behind the 8-ball because our options just became much more limited with Hanjin announcing they are pulling out of Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland. In one announcement, Port of Portland lost 80% of their containers business.

The complete lack of remorse and total disregard by both the PMA and ILWU for the havoc that ensued during this continuing crisis is repulsive. See very brief press release here. No “thank you for your patience”. No “we’re incredibly sorry for the suffering that America has endeavored.” And definitely no sign of “we will all work together to make sure the West Coast ports become synonymous with the best ports in the world!” Because of this and because of the economic pain and damage, we simply cannot let this happen again. We’re hearing that the contract was for 5 years. The clock is now ticking, the deadline is now set, and our next battle has been named: preventing a small group of people from holding the American economy hostage the next time the contract expires.

Wish us luck.

In the meantime, some comic relief… Here are our new names for a couple of vessels:

ship line just kidding

ship name MEHship line daylateship line almost

Port Crisis 101: history of, where we stand, and a little of my own opinion…

Over the past few weeks, the port crisis has been on the news, on the radio, and in the newspaper. Those of us that have been aware of this since last May are pretty versed on what’s going on. Or if you happen to be a friend of mine, then you I’m sure have been briefed on the subject. 🙂 Sorry not sorry. There was a recent article in the Oregonian on the background of the Port of Portland – a fantastic article showcasing the history of what has brought us to this point at the port. Very sad, very true. I had a local farmer in my office asking me, “Is it really that bad?” Yes, it’s really that bad.

That article really showcased the Port of Portland, but if you want to learn more about the crisis ensuing at all West Coast ports, let me take a shot at it… (With help from the AgTC)

THE PLAYERS

  1. Port Authority – a public government entity which owns the land. It is the landlord. In California, Ports are a division of the local City government – so the Ports of LA, Long Beach and Oakland are controlled by the Mayors. Port of Portland is an entity of the State of Oregon. Seattle and Tacoma are independent governments (and their marine departments are merging).
  2. Marine Terminal Operator – is the tenant. It is a private company which leases a piece of the Port Authority’s land, typically for 5 to 50 year terms. (Note the Port of Portland’s terminal operated signed a 25 year lease. I believe they are on year 3 of the lease.) Millions of dollars are invested in cranes and other equipment, some funded by the landlord Port, some by the tenant Marine Terminal Operator. The Terminal Operator hires longshoremen (who are represented by the ILWU) to operate the equipment and load and unload the ships that dock at the terminal, but also working in the container yard to load and unload containers on and off the trucks. If a terminal has an on-dock rail yard, containers are loaded on and off the rail cars by longshoremen labor.   There are three basic kinds of terminals:
    • “Bulk” handle grain, soybean, oil — in huge tanks or elevators, and pour the product into massive compartments of ships. These bulk terminals are operating under a separate contract with the ILWU, and there is currently no dispute and no disruption to operations.
    • The other primary terminal, is a “container terminal” where ships are loaded/unloaded with those steel boxes, generally 40 foot x 8 x 8 (called a Forty Foot Equivalent Unit or FEU) or 20 foot x 8 x 8 (TEU). There are dozens of container terminals on the West Coast, ranging from one container terminal at Port of Portland, to eight at Port of LA and six at Port of Long Beach. The terminal operator, hires the labor (longshoremen) to operate the terminals. The current labor dispute centers on these container terminals. The operators of these container terminals are members of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which is representing them in negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU, see below) on the marine terminal labor contract.
    • Also, there are “break-bulk terminals.” Some cargo does not move in containers, but are stowed loosely in the hold of a ship. For example, rolls of newsprint, or coils of steel, or palletized fruit. The current ILWU –PMA dispute has largely (but not completely) spared these terminals.
  3. Steamship Lines (actually, none operate with steam power – it is petroleum fuel), are also known as “ocean carriers”, or just “carriers”. There are about 20 major ocean carriers carrying US international trade, import and export, to and from West Coast terminals. All are private companies, all are foreign companies, headquartered in Asia, Europe and the Mid-East. None are US owned companies. The steamship lines enter into long term contracts with container terminal operators, often agreeing to share costs of container cranes and other infrastructure. They typically pay the terminal operator a fee per container loaded on the ship, or unloaded, under various arrangements.
  4. Labor. The International Longshore and Warehouseman’s Union (ILWU) represents 100% of the labor force at the US west coast marine container terminals. These include all levels of labor, including skilled crane operators, operators of equipment who stack containers, lift containers on and off of the trucks, clerks who check others’ work, those who run the gates at which trucks enter and exit the terminals checking documentation, plug and unplug refrigeration units on containers, etc.
  5. Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). This is the organization comprised of the West Coast terminal operators and steamship lines that negotiates the labor contract with the ILWU. All compensation, wages, benefits, work rules, vacation, and dispute resolution procedures, are covered by the PMA-ILWU contract.
  6. The Hiring Hall. This is an historical labor hiring mechanism, today unique to longshore labor, passionately defended by the ILWU. Under the hiring hall mechanism, no regular team of longshoremen (crane operator, checkers, mobile equipment operators, etc.) show up at the same terminal each day, familiar with the requirements of the job, and with each other. Instead, the terminal operator, each morning, calls the ILWU Hiring Hall, and puts in an order for a crew, or number or workers. The ILWU dispatcher then sends out whatever group he assembles. That is the crew that works that terminal that day – rarely the same combination of individuals, with varying degrees of experience, work ethic and familiarity with the equipment. It obviously impacts the productivity of terminal operations. In some ports, such as Charleston and Savannah, the terminal workers are organized as regular crews, working together – as in virtually every warehouse or manufacturing enterprise, or as is the case in Ports around the world. The lift rate on and off the ships at Charleston and Savannah is approximately 42 or 44 containers an hour per crane (similar to Europe). On the US West Coast, it is typically 27 to 28 containers/hour. In my opinion and from running crews and business myself, this is a very strange and seemingly extremely inefficient and unproductive way to do things. I would like the chance to understand the reasoning behind this mechanism the ILWU still uses. I wonder if there is any reasoning behind it or if it’s simply “how it’s always been done.”
  7. Federal Mediator. Ideally, the PMA and ILWU can and do negotiate each contract (every 3 or 6 years) on their own. However, when the two parties cannot reach agreement, they can request assignment of a mediator by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Both parties have to agree to use the mediator, who is engaged only for as long as both parties want him/her to assist in the negotiations. The mediator has played a central role in helping the ILWU and PMA, as well as the East Coast longshore union and employers, resolve contract disputes on several occasions in recent years. According to a Journal of Commerce article, for contracts covering more than 1,000 workers, the success rate was 76.6 percent in Fiscal 2013.

THE ISSUES

  1. ILWU- PMA Contract. The contract contains all aspects of the working relationship between longshore labor and their employers, the PMA. Pay, benefits, work rules, arbitration mechanism to resolve disputes as they arise. The contract expired June 30, 2014. With exception of a brief extension, the ILWU and PMA have been operating without a contract and thus any dispute resolution mechanism.  Negotiations have continued on and off, on the following issues (note these are “believed” issues as negotiations are tight-lipped except for the very slanted press releases coming from one of the parties):
    • Automation: Automation means fewer longshore jobs. To protect their jobs, ILWU has successfully limited ability of US west coast terminal operators to install automated cranes, readers and other equipment that are commonly used throughout the world. ILWU seeks to limit the introduction of automation, and protect jurisdiction.
    • Jurisdiction: To the extent automated machinery is introduced, ILWU wants to assure that ILWU members (as opposed to Machinists Union or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) have the work.
    • Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) imposes an excise tax on the “Cadillac” health care plans, to raise money to pay for health coverage for those who can’t afford it. As the ILWU health benefits are among the most generous in the world, they are subject to this excise tax. The ILWU members do not wish to pay the excise tax, as this would make their benefits no longer 100% free. PMA says the terminal operators cannot afford to pay the $150 million annual cumulative excise tax. While no public statement has been released by the PMA and ILWU, it appears that they have agreed to deal with this by “kicking the can down the road”: since the excise tax doesn’t kick in till 2018, they may agree to a 3 year contract, and leave this excise tax issue for the next contract negotiations.
    • The ILWU wants the right to unilaterally fire a local arbitrator. Local arbitrators are appointed jointly by the ILWU and PMA, with a local arbitrator serving in each of the major port ranges on the West Coast. When the coast wide contract is in force, and a dispute arises between the employer and the ILWU local, an arbitrator is called in to gather testimony and render a decision. In most instances, the local arbitrator can prevent what is often a minor disagreement from shutting down a marine terminal for an entire day, or longer. In the worst case scenario, as is occurring right now, the absence of the arbitration process can allow work slowdowns to continue endlessly. Does it make any sense to any of you that either party should be allowed to fire an arbitrator? Wouldn’t that give any party simply too much power? The right to fire the exact individual that is supposed to either rule in favor or against you? I would suggest that we would all be in agreement that this is simply too much power for any one side.
    • Chassis: When the chassis were under control of the ocean carriers, the ILWU did some of the chassis repair work. Now that the carriers are divesting themselves of the chassis, turning ownership and management to independent leasing and trucking companies, who will have jurisdiction over chassis repair work? The independent leasing companies and truckers are not a part of the PMA and are therefore not a part of the current negotiation between the ILWU and PMA. INSERTING MY OPINION HERE: According to the ILWU, and quoted from a source that I need to remain private (therefore not verifiable), there was a letter sent to Members of Congress urging them not to sign onto a previous Congressional letter.  In that letter, it is quoted regarding the Chassis M&R (maintenance and repair): “It’s an important issue in terms of preserving and protecting the jobs of hundreds of ILWU mechanics but more importantly we want chassis on the road that are maintained and do not endanger the lives of the driving public.” May I break this statement down? The ports no longer own the chassis (explained below). This got phased out over the course of the last year or so. Private leasing companies, or like in the case of our company, individual companies own their own chassis. These companies are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the chassis that they OWN. The Federal Motor Carrier agency and Dept of Transportation set incredibly strict guidelines that we follow to ensure safety on the road. Between our 2 truck shops, we have certified mechanics performing Annual Inspections on these and every other piece of equipment being used on the road. We also have pre-trip inspections performed by truck drivers every single day these are being used. For the ILWU to want jurisdiction over and responsibility of this task is ludicrous. The lives of the driving public have absolutely nothing to do with the ILWU. To put it bluntly, it is not the ILWU’s job or responsibility to maintain safety on the roads. If a chassis that they inspected were in an accident, would the ILWU take responsibility? I think not.
  2. Port Operations Disruption. Since May 2013, all West Coast terminals have suffered job actions by the various ILWU Locals that have resulted in closure of terminals, ranging from several hours to several days. The pace of these labor actions accelerated in sporadic and unpredictable manner during September and October, 2014, and became a daily unpredictable occurrence at various terminals up and down the coast, since November 2014. Job actions include walking off the job, or not reporting for work, or the Hiring Hall sending less experienced labor. Sometimes the work is so slow, the terminal operator shuts down the terminal. ILWU claims PMA (terminal operators) are making the situation worse, by refusing to hire 2nd and 3rd shifts (at hefty overtime pay scale); PMA says that the longshoremen are working so slow as to force hiring 2nd and 3rd shifts, and they aren’t going to be “played”. The ILWU deny they are working slow.
  3. Other Factors Contributing to Port Congestion. As in any industry, there is ongoing change in ocean carrier and port operations. With effort by Ports, terminal operators, and labor working together constructively to meet challenges, it is possible to work through these. But when labor doesn’t show up to work, or takes steps to exacerbate the challenges, congestion is the predictable result.
    • Mega Ships, now double the size of the traditional container ships, depositing hundreds of containers at a time on the terminal. This taxes the available terminal space, increases the need for velocity in moving containers off the ships, onto the trucks or rail, and out the gates.
    • Alliances. The steamship lines, taking advantage of the new mega ships, are now combining their cargo, so as to have larger volume deliveries of containers, but fewer ship calls. More containers, delivered at once, stresses capacity of the terminal operator to move the containers through the gates.
    • Chassis—(the trailer on which the ocean container is placed and then hauled out the gates). Ocean carriers have traditionally, in the US, owned and maintained the chassis. The carriers are discontinuing this. Chassis are now the responsibility of truckers, shippers and others. During this transition there has been confusion and a shortage of chassis. To solve the problem, some shippers are buying and maintaining their own chassis. The Port of Long Beach is acquiring 3,000 chassis to have available for shippers through that Port. Other solutions will be implemented over the coming months/years. In the meantime, like the mega-ships, all parties need to work constructively to try to make the best of the situation.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

The finger-pointing between the PMA and the ILWU is intense; and exporters and importers are not being spared the increasing damages, losses, missed delivery deadlines, unhappy overseas customers, waiting trucks, rejected cargo, and layoffs.

The long term impacts are becoming evident: for exporters – permanent loss of foreign customers who are looking for food, farm and fiber sources in other countries. For importers – hearing accelerating plans to permanently revise supply chain, reducing dependence on US West Coast ports, increasing shipments via Canadian and all-water (Panama and Suez) to the East/Gulf Coast ports.

The future impact to all West Coast states is in flux. How will the rest of the world react to the unreliability of our ports? Are our international customers looking for another source for their feed, food and fiber? Will other industries (airplane and car parts, shoes, retailers, etc…) move their warehouses and distribution sites towards the East Coast and Gulf Coast to be closer to more a more reliable port system? They already are. There’s chatter out there of the East Coast terminals and ILA (International Longshore Association) asking for that business. If this happens, then where will we get empty containers? How much more will it cost to ship off the West Coast and will we be competitive in the global market? How much will the landscape of Oregon and America change? All of these questions remain to be answered. One thing is for certain: the longer these disruptions continue, the more at risk we are.

Things are moving fast these days. On Thursday (February 12) morning, 359 Oregon companies, farms and associations wrote a letter to the Oregon Congressional Delegation asking for intervention in the West Coast Port Crisis. Also on Thursday, many Congresspeople hosted a Press Conference on this subject. (See Congressman Kurt Schrader’s comments here). By Friday morning, all 5 US House Members from Oregon sent a letter to the President urging his active and immediate engagement, including using statutory authorities accorded to the Chief Executive as necessary. Friday afternoon, US Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden wrote a letter to the ILWU/PMA strongly urging both parties to immediately resume port operations at full capacity while the final issues are negotiated. Finally, Friday afternoon, President Obama announces he will send his Secretary of Labor to the negotiation table. This doesn’t necessarily mean a signed contract is immediately imminent, but the last week showed more media and political involvement then we’ve seen in the past 9 months combined. I’m hoping it’s a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition

To anyone reading this blog, this is a fantastic statement by the AgTC to explain the current situation between the ILWU/PMA, the struggles that Agriculture has and will continue to have, and the outlook of the West Coast ports depending on how these negotiations go. -Shelly

AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition
Initiation of Federal Mediation of West Coast Port Contract Dispute

January 6, 2015

Contact: Peter Friedmann, Executive Director, executivedirector@agtrans.org

Abigail Struxness, Program Manager, abigail@agtrans.org

202-783-3333

www.agtrans.org

The AgTC appreciates that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services has now undertaken to help the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU- representing the longshore workers) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA- representing the marine terminal employers) resolve differences. FMCS Press Release. This is an essential step, as the injury caused by port labor slowdowns, walk-offs and disruption has rendered West Coast ports dysfunctional. Months ago exporters and importers asked the White House to get involved. The result of the West Coast port disruption over the past 6 months has been hundreds of millions of dollars of lost sales, cargo damage, and lost customers to US agriculture, manufacturers, farmers, and retailers, not to mention lay-offs in each of these sectors. This disruption and injury continues today.

The AgTC seeks from this Mediation, not just any new contract between the ILWU and PMA. While that would provide temporary relief, it would not lead to improvements in port operations that are essential to meet the challenges facing west coast ports and the importers and exporters dependent upon them. The AgTC presented to the President of the ILWU and the PMA a comprehensive list of what’s at stake for West Coast ports, as negotiations began last year. Those challenges are still very much in play as the Mediation begins. Open Letter to the ILWU and PMA.

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition’s membership includes companies that represent virtually all agriculture and forest products exported from the United States, as well as imports of these products. These products are grown, raised, processed, packaged and shipped from all regions of the U.S. to markets worldwide, where they typically face competition from similar products sourced elsewhere. The AgTC was founded on the following principle: “There’s nothing that we produce in agriculture and forest products in this country, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. If we cannot deliver affordably and dependably, those foreign customers will find alternative sourcing, and it may never come back to the US suppliers.”US agriculture requires efficient West Coast ports if we are to compete with agriculture producers in Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Chile, etc. in selling to the Asia markets. When US marine terminals are shuttered, and when lack of automation (which is standard at world-class ports outside the US) renders our terminals slower and undependable, then agriculture, which depends upon these ports for access to world markets, suffers great and permanent loss.

For our US exporters and importers, continuing West Coast port disruption and inefficiencies, unless rectified, are already leading to two very bad results – neither in the interests of US exporters, importers or the US economy as a whole. Unfortunately, both have been very much in evidence and accelerating over the past year:

  1. Supply chain managers are forced to divert cargo to East and Gulf US ports and/or to Canadian ports (more detail provided in the Open Letter.) Much of this diversion is now permanent and will not come back to the West Coast ports even after the current dispute is resolved.
  2. Foreign customers are forced to shift their purchases of hay, apples, cotton, lumber, citrus, meat, dairy, almonds, etc., to suppliers of the same products located in other countries.  This too has been occurring with increasing frequency, and are often permanent. For example, when the west coast ports were shut down 12 years ago, Japan candy producers were forced to shift purchases of almonds from California growers, to Turkey, and some of that business still has not, and likely will never come back to the US.

So we hope the  ILWU  is not entering this mediation with the objectives of increasing cost of  port labor (already the highest in the world; according to published contract terms, ILWU workers make an average of $147,000/year, with full medical – no copay, no deductible, no limit, plus pension, etc.), preventing full automation of the terminals, maintaining antiquated practices such as the hiring hall and closing terminals during lunch hours (long discarded in all other industries), and now expanding these costs and inefficiencies to chassis maintenance and repair.

If the ILWU is successful in achieving these objectives during the current mediation, they will be successful in accelerating the diversion of cargo away from the US west coast ports, forcing foreign customers to stop buying from US farmers, growers, packers and food processors, driving cargo away from US west coast ports, and ultimately denying their own children the good jobs at the terminals.

One of the key issues that will be subject to the current mediation relates to jurisdiction over the chassis (these are the trailers on which the ocean cargo containers are placed) maintenance and repair.  This critical function simply cannot be handled in the same way that West Coast port operations have been handled over the years.

Following is a current, quite alarming report about chassis maintenance:

“Our company is one of many exporters trucking products to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on a daily basis.  We have dealt with numerous issues pertaining to the current labor slowdown by the ILWU, costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales and time wasted.  One recent problem we are experiencing is not only appalling, but amounts to outright theft.  We’d like to share our story.

About a year ago, we began making plans to start managing our own chassis program for our trucking operation, as we knew shipping lines would soon be getting out of the chassis business.  For years we had been reliant on equipment that was provided by the shipping lines as part of our service contract.  While the allure of a “free” chassis was appealing, in reality, we were spending approximately $70,000 per year on tire repair of port chassis.  As any trucking operation knows, the tires on port chassis are generally in poor condition, as each operator nurses the tires along just enough to get the container delivered, leaving any lasting problem to the next lucky recipient of that particular chassis.

In order to begin our chassis management program, we experimented with purchasing our own new chassis, as well as entering into a long term leasing agreement with one of the larger port chassis providers, in order to determine which type of equipment best suited our operation.  The equipment we purchased was in excellent condition, as everything was brand new.  In general, the leased port chassis were in good condition, except of course, for the tires.  Over the next few months we began replacing the “junk” recapped port chassis tires with other tires that while were not new, were in much better condition.  There was a great deal of expense incurred to conduct this project, however, we believed it would benefit us in the long run.  Sure enough, once this tire replacement program was complete, we saw a nearly 90% reduction in our tire repair costs.

Two weeks ago, one of our truck drivers was leaving a terminal in Los Angeles after picking up an empty container.  He was stopped at the exit gate by a terminal worker and told that his chassis needs to be inspected for safety purposes.  This particular chassis was one of the leased units we did not own, but have thoroughly maintained.  It also recently completed its annual inspection by the California Highway Patrol, and passed without incident.  However, on this day, it was deemed unsafe by this particular terminal worker and received an “OUT OF SERVICE” tag.  Our driver was instructed to report to the maintenance shop to receive replacement tires before being allowed to leave the terminal.  The maintenance shop, at their own pace, removed our tires, and replaced them with…you guessed it…”junk” recaps-the same type and quality we had spent months, and tens of thousands of dollars to replace.  In effect, they stole our tires from us.  Two days later, that same chassis had two blowouts, from tires that were replaced by the terminal.  So much for safety.

I wish we could report this as an isolated incident, however, in the last two weeks, this situation has repeated itself on numerous occasions.  At this rate, the terminal will have undone in weeks what it took us months to accomplish.  This is just one of many similar costly stories that goes unreported during this contract negotiation period.  Our industry cannot continue to operate this way.  Changed is needed…soon.”