Thursday, December 1, 2011

Judge Considers Dropping ILWU Criminal Charges

International Longshore and Warehouse Union lawyers have asked a judge to drop criminal charges against several dozen dockworkers who blocked a train from entering a Port of Longview terminal during a September protest.

Attorneys for union members argued in Cowlitz County District Court on Nov. 30 that the dockworkers’ actions were protected under the US constitutional amendment protecting the right to assemble.

“They were doing something very important to Americans – engaging in First Amendment action,” ILWU attorney Neil Fox told district court judge Ron Marshall during the hearing.

The lawyers also asserted that the port did not clearly identify which areas were off-limits during the protest.

Almost two-dozen people were arrested on misdemeanor charges during the Sept. 7 demonstration, which included a four-hour standoff where about 300 dockworkers and supporters stood on the railroad tracks below an overpass and blocked a mile-long train bound for the port’s EGT terminal.

In addition to the arrests, the union was fined more than $300,000 by the federal government for blocking of trains and alleged property damaged caused during a total of three protests that took place during September. The union is appealing the fines.
The protests were part of a long struggle between the terminal operator and union over labor issues.

The union says its contract with the port requires that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal must go to unionized labor. The company, however, says its lease agreement with the port does not require ILWU workers.

During the Nov. 30 hearing, Marshall didn’t indicate when he might issue a ruling, but said a lack of proof by prosecutors may play a part in his decision.
“We’re still in flux in terms of whether the state has admissible evidence to prove a crime,” he said.