Coming and Going: Who works at the port

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) – Any roll call through the array of jobs at the Georgia Ports Authority would be as long as a day there is busy.

"We have 1,000 Georgia Ports Authority employees,'' said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. "We also have several thousand international longshoremen, we have pilots out on the river, we have tugboat captains, docking pilots.''

And they all have a role in making Savannah's port the fastest growing in America, whether they're pushing pencils or steel containers.

"It's different,'' crane operator Paul Wood says of the work at the port. "Something you don't see every day.''

And its many moving parts are not seen at once.

"We, the longshoremen, unload the ships and we take the cargo to a point of rest,'' said Willie Seymore, president of the International Longshoreman Association's local 1414. "The GPA employees work the cranes, they position the containers that go out to the different warehouses.''

Suspended in the air 120 feet above Garden City Terminal, some of the port's most skilled and most experienced workers have both hands full operating the cranes that are key to the entire operation.

Working toggles, joysticks, switches and buttons and looking down through a glass floor on the crane cab, they maneuver massive steel containers off of ships and onto trucks for imports and repeat the process in reverse for exports.

"When I was a kid, when you was a kid, you ever see anything like this? No,'' says Wood, who has worked a crane at the port for nearly 20 years. "It's a little rough on your back, bent down, you know, looking straight down most of the time.''

On the ground below, independent stevedores orchestrate a sort of interior shuttle service operated by drivers who never leave the port.

Together, they transfer containers to specific places on the yard precisely selected by a 400-person container-operations department.

"When they're on the water,'' Cheri Colson, of the container-operations department, says of the containers, "we've got it laid out where they're going to go off the vessel.''

The boxes could also be taken to one of several warehouses, where another crew ensures proper delivery of goods.

"We have several different shipping lines down here, so we have to make sure we are putting the right rolls or the freight in the right boxes,'' says Richard Frazier, a warehouse checker-foreman. "And we always want to make our customers happy.''

Essential to that satisfaction for the 2,300 truck drivers that pass through the gates each day are the eyes and ears of the port, a customer-relations department that is one of a kind in the industry.

"When drivers come on terminal, we want their visit to be as seamless as possible,'' says Felecia Cook, a process improvement manager in the port's Client Relations Center. "We work directly with the inter-model group and we put things together so we have a good answer when the questions come in.

"Questions can come from anywhere. They can come from the trucking community, they can come from the steamship lines, from brokers, from freight fowarders. So if it's a question, we need to know the answer.''

But even inside knowledge of the port doesn't prevent workers from appreciating the unique nature of their jobs and the place they perform them.

"It's pretty amazing when you think about the different things that come through the port and all the different companies,'' said Colson. "We have cars, we've had really expensive art work that's come through. It's just, it's exciting to be part of the big picture.''

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