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Think Out Loud

On the Job: Longshoreman

Pete Springer/OPB

On the Job is our occasional series that explores how people are shaped by the work they do. In this segment, we’ll visit the Port of Portland to talk to a longshore worker

Longshoremen load and unload container ships that come down the Columbia and Willamette rivers carrying a variety of cargo from grain to cars. They don’t work a typical schedule. In fact, they don’t know on any given day if they will get work until they call in to hear a recording about what jobs are available. If there’s work, then then they show up at the union hall to see if they can fill one of the jobs at the port that day.

Slideshow photo credit: Rachel Sapin/OPB

Jim Daw has been a longshoreman for over 30 years. In that time, he’s done a variety of jobs from the basic tasks of a laborer in the hold of a ship to the more skilled work of operating cranes and other heavy equipment. He says he remembers when it would take eight people 30 days to unload a hatch box by box. Now that ships use large containers, the whole loading and unloading process takes about 24 hours.

Do you work at the Port of Portland or another port? What’s your experience? If you aren’t familiar with this line of work, what questions do you have about it?


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