Supply Chain News / Risk & Compliance / Ports

Longshoremen Urge Judge Not to Find Them in Contempt

July 18, 2012
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Longshoremen, faced with a potential contempt-of-court finding by a federal judge, argue in legal briefs that productivity has been normal at the Port of Portland's Terminal 6.

Lawyers for the union hope to persuade U.S. District Judge Michael Simon not to issue a civil-contempt finding during a hearing in Portland at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19, 2012.

In filings, the union attorneys stop short of denying the existence of a July 4 slowdown alleged by the National Labor Relations Board's Seattle office. Instead, they present evidence to "refute the claim that ILWU Local 8 longshore workers engaged in a work slowdown on July 4, 2012, that was sufficiently egregious to have violated the terms of the temporary restraining order issued by the court on July 3, 2012."

NLRB officials in Seattle contend that a slowdown occurred in defiance of Simon's July 3 order banning them.

The legal briefs present the latest arguments related to a dispute between longshoremen and electricians over the rights to two jobs plugging, unplugging and monitoring refrigerated containers, or reefers. The standoff exacts a widening economic toll as shippers pay extra to route containers through the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. Exporters worry that shipping lines will permanently drop Portland.

The new filings come as controversies at Terminal 6 spread from electrical outlets to the giant cranes used to load and unload vessels at the North Portland terminal. When longshoremen didn't perform maintenance work recently to fix a crane, Port of Portland officials hired an outside company to do the job, said Bill Wyatt, Port executive director.

Wyatt said Tuesday that the Port had reordered a gear needed to repair a second crane after the initial part went missing. A lawyer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers told Simon last week that as with the reefer work, longshoremen no longer alert electricians when work needs doing.

Longshore lawyers say the NLRB's motion for contempt "seeks to improperly draw the court into the minutiae of daily, if not hourly, supervision and administration of operations at Terminal 6."

Oregon Area Arbitrator Jan Holmes wrote July 6: "Job action as well as production slowdowns against ICTSI have been ongoing and sporadic over the month. Such conditions are not acceptable."

Longshore lawyers cite various factors that slowed work during the first shift July 4, including holiday backup crane operators described as less skilled and experienced than regular operators.

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