Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Port of Portland Sued By Longshore Union

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union filed a federal lawsuit against the Port of Portland on August 16th. The union seeks to stop hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid authorized by the port for a terminal operator and several ocean carriers as reimbursement for costs incurred during recent labor unrest.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the expenditures to Terminal 6 operator ICTSI and demands what it calls “illegally granted funds” remain in public hands.

“The port’s handout to ICTSI is not only illegal, it’s wrong,” Leal Sundet, ILWU Coast Committeeman and resident of Clackamas County, said. “Our lawsuit aims to stop the port’s direct interference in a private labor dispute and to keep the money in public hands, where it can be invested in local infrastructure and for other purposes that serve the public good.”

On Aug. 8, the Port of Portland Commission authorized the payment of about $700,000 to ICTSI to offset operating costs and lost revenue associated with labor unrest associated with Terminal 6. On July 11, the commission authorized payments totaling tens of thousands of dollars to shipping lines to compensate them for losses incurred during the unrest.

The ILWU says that the expenditures are against both federal labor law and the Oregon state constitution. The crux of the union’s argument is that public entities like the port are prohibited from helping one side or the other in a private sector labor dispute and that the port’s “gifting” of funds doesn’t fall within the permissible exception of certain business activities that the Oregon Constitution grants the port.

The port, however, has said that no reimbursements to the terminal operator have been made as of yet, and that rather than direct payments to ICTSI, the reimbursements could come in the form of rent payment credits. No tax revenues would be used, according to the port.

The port authorized the expenditures during the midst of a labor battle between the ILWU and the International Brotherhood and Longshore Union over work at Terminal 6. The ILWU at the time was attempting to win jobs hooking and unhooking refrigerated containers at the terminal, work that that been performed by the IBEW since Terminal 6 launched operations in 1974.

The ILWU claimed that under the collective bargaining agreement between it and the Pacific Maritime Association – of which ICTSI is a member – longshoremen should be doing the work. However, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Aug. 13 that the jobs rightfully belong to the electricians union.
During the height of the dispute this past June, production at the terminal dipped dramatically, causing long lines of drayage trucks and increasing the number of stacks of containers waiting to be loaded and unloaded.

The ILWU work slowdown eventually led to some shippers temporarily opting to bypass the Port of Portland for other West Coast ports. The situation eventually prompted the port commission to take the step of offering reimbursements to the shippers and ICTSI.