Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Judge Throws Out ILWU Suit Against Port

By Mark Edward Nero

US District Court Judge Michael Simon on March 28 dismissed a federal lawsuit by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union that aimed 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 labor unrest.

The ILWU filed its legal complaint in August 2012, alleging the subsidies violated the Oregon state constitution, which prohibits using tax dollars to benefit private firms.

In August 2012, 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 of the same year, the commission authorized payments totaling tens of thousands of dollars to shipping lines to compensate them for losses incurred during the unrest.

The ILWU had cried foul, saying that the expenditures were against both federal labor law and the Oregon state constitution. The crux of the union’s argument was 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, said that rather than direct payments, the reimbursements would come in the form of rent payment credits and that no tax revenues would be used. In his ruling, Simon said the port was right. “The undisputed facts show that no tax revenues were used for the 2012 or 2013 rent or carrier programs by the port,” Simon said during the March 28 hearing in Portland.

The port had authorized the aid during the midst of a labor battle between the ILWU and the International Brotherhood and Longshore Union over work at Terminal 6. An ILWU work slowdown led to some shippers temporarily opting to bypass the Port of Portland for other West Coast ports, prompting Portland’s port commission to take the step of offering reimbursements to the shippers and ICTSI.