Port of Oakland workers being laid off

August 6, 2009 6:31:38 PM PDT
The port of Oakland has been hit hard by the recession and today it laid off dozens of workers as part of its effort to pay off more than a $1 billion in debt.

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Airport operations specialist Pamela Winn got the news this morning.

"I just turned 50 June 11th and I started when I was 21 years ago, so just tell me how I should feel," she said.

Winn and 33 other workers were laid off at Oakland's port and airport. They are almost all are members of SEIU, the service employees union. One is from IBEW Local 1245.

The layoffs came after the two unions rejected concessions that would have frozen future pay hikes. Two other unions accepted those cutbacks; its members were not laid off.

Port management says revenues are way down because of the recession.

"Aviation, the volume is down 20 percent and maritime volume is down approximately 14 percent. So these are significant reductions in our business," said Joe Echelberry from the Port of Oakland.

The big reason for the port's financial problems stems from expensive improvement projects that it launched from 2000 to 2003.

At the time, industry experts predicted business could triple by 2020.

Oakland doubled the size of its port facilities and the airport went through an expensive facelift. But the recession hit just as the port's debts were coming due.

According to an industry report, the Port of Oakland is now $1.3 billion in debt, which is five times the port's operating revenue of $277 million.

Management hopes to save $8 million from the layoffs and by furloughing many other workers for up to 11 days next year.

"I felt like I had a hole in my heart. This is my whole career, 26 years with the Port of Oakland," said service worker Edson Lee.

Lee and the others who were laid off may just be the first to fall victim to job cuts. The port expects no significant increase in business for the next four years.

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