Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ILWU Expands Scope of Civil Rights Lawsuit

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has expanded the scope of a federal lawsuit it filed last September alleging civil rights violations in connection with protests held at a Port of Longview terminal last summer.

Two more Cowlitz County law enforcement officials, Sheriff’s Department chief deputy Charlie Rosenzweig and county prosecutor Sue Baur, have been added to the suit, joining Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha, County Sheriff Mark Nelson, the county of Cowlitz County and the City of Longview as defendants.

The suit, which was filed with the US District Court in Tacoma, alleges that law enforcement officials overstepped their legal boundaries when arresting ILWU members and supporters on various misdemeanor and felony charges during and after the protests.

The union contends that police followed some protestors home and placed them under arrest there, instead of following the common practice of mailing misdemeanor citations.

The union’s lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive fines against the city and county, does not list any dollar amounts.

A jury trial is scheduled to start in March of 2013, however the two sides also have been ordered into mediation to work on the possibility of settling the case out of court. Arbitration is expected to begin this spring.

Over the course of the protests, which lasted much of last summer, more than 200 members of ILWU Local 21 and their supporters were arrested. Most were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. So far, the dozens of arrests have resulted in a handful of convictions during jury trials, but also some acquittals. Other cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.

The pickets were part of a labor dispute between the union and EGT, the operator of a grain terminal at the port. The dispute stemmed from company using the services of a union other than the ILWU at Berth 9, a $200 million joint venture between Bunge Ltd., ITOCHU International and STX Pan Ocean.

Local 21 had contended that its contract with the Port of Longview required that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal go to ILWU labor. The company, however, said its lease agreement with the port did not specify ILWU workers. Members of Operating Engineers Local 701 had been working at the terminal.

The issue was settled under an agreement ratified by the port Jan. 27. It says that all labor at the terminal must be dispatched through the Local 21 union hall. Notably, however, the agreement did not alleviate the ILWU from responsibility for estimated hundreds of dollars in damage inflicted on the terminal during the months of protests.