Thursday, September 1, 2011

NLRB Files Complaint Against ILWU Picketers at Longview Port

In what may be a blow to union dockers protesting the operator of a $200 million Port of Longview grain facility, the National Labor Relations Board on Monday filed a complaint accusing the local longshore union of unfair labor practices.

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 local International Longshore and Warehouse Union members to end the eight-month long labor dispute.

The ILWU protests center on the decision by Longview grain terminal operator EGT Development to use an outside union contractor instead of ILWU members to staff the facility, a move EGT says will save it more than $1 million a year.

ILWU Local 21, which covers the Longview port and has a labor exclusivity contract with the port, contends that the ILWU holds jurisdiction over the grain terminal.

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 several 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.

In its complaint, the NLRB argues that because the ILWU and EGT never signed an agreement before talks broke down, the ILWU has no complaint against the firm. Both the ILWU and EGT disagree on who broke off the talks in January. The NLRB goes on to assert that the ILWU's actual grievance is against the subcontractor that EGT hired to provide labor at the grain facility, which, ironically, is using union labor, albeit not ILWU labor.

The NLRB also contends: the ILWU picketers have at times been "violent and aggressive," including destroying EGT property and harassing employees; the ILWU is attempting to force EGT to hire a subcontractor that would only hire union labor, a violation of labor laws; the ILWU is attempting to prevent EGT from using their current labor subcontractor, also a violation of labor law.

The NLRB said that the accusations in the complaint remain allegations until the administrative judge can rule on the matter, but the federal agency hopes that the ILWU and EGT can come to a negotiated settlement.