Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Judge Issues Restraining Order Against ILWU Pickets at Longview Port Facility

A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Port of Longview union dockers who have essentially shut down a new $200 million grain terminal at the port over a labor dispute with grain facility operator EGT Development.

In the order issued Thursday, District Court Judge Ronald Leighton prohibits members of the International Longshore and Warehouse union from engaging in "unlawful...picket line violence, threats and property damage, mass picketing and blocking of ingress and egress at the facility of EGT."

Leighton also prohibited the ILWU from "restraining or coercing the employees of EGT... or any other person doing business in relation to the EGT facility."

The restraining order was requested by the National Labor Relations Board, just days after the federal agency filed a formal complaint accusing the Longview ILWU local of unfair labor practices. The NLRB contends that the picketers have no legitimate labor issue with EGT while simultaneously engaging in illegally violent, aggressive and coercive actions against the firm.

An administrative law judge is set to hear the NLRB complaint on Oct. 11 in Portland. If the NLRB complaint is upheld, it could force the ILWU members to end the eight-month long labor dispute.

Judge Leighton's temporary restraining order will be in effect through Sept. 10, and the judge plans to conduct a Sept. 8 hearing to considering making the restraining order permanent.

The ILWU protests, which at times have seen hundreds of dockers protesting outside the grain facility, center on the decision by EGT – through a subcontractor – to use non-ILWU union workers to staff the facility. EGT has said that using the non-ILWU union workers will save the firm more than $1 million a year.

ILWU Local 21, which covers the Longview port, contends that EGT, in signing a lease with the port, also agreed to the union's labor exclusivity agreement with the port and EGT is thus required to hire ILWU members.

Negotiations between EGT and the ILWU over the approximately 50 positions at the facility broke down earlier this year and local ILWU protests since have at times shuttered the grain facility, halted rail service, and led to the arrest of numerous picketers. The union blames EGT for the recent escalations in the protests.

EGT sued the port in January, arguing that it is not bound by the contract between the port and the ILWU. The union requested to join the port in the suit, a move that was recently approved by the court. The case is expected to be heard sometime this month.

ILWU officials said they believe Judge Leighton's order still allows members to picket EGT, albeit within the guidelines set down by the judge.

EGT has not said if it will resume activity at the facility, which was nearing the final stages of completion when the picketing began.