- THE MAGAZINE
On Thursday, July 19, 2012, a federal judge denied a National Labor Relations Board request to find Port of Portland longshoremen in contempt of court for an Independence Day work slowdown.
Judge Michael Simon said Thursday that he believes some longshoremen intentionally worked at a slow speed that holiday morning. But, he said, they may not have received word of his July 3 temporary restraining order that required them to end an illegal slowdown that has been disrupting the flow of cargo at the international container terminal.
On a related matter, Simon granted the NLRB's request for a preliminary injunction that will extend his demand that the longshoremen work at regular speed. The judge said evidence suggests that the longshoremen have engaged an illegal boycott that has done "serious economic harm to the region, including innocent bystanders."
The slowdown began early last month amid a dispute between the unions representing longshoremen and electrical workers. The unions disagree about which workers should plug in and unplug refrigerated shipping containers — the equivalent of two full-time jobs. The conflict led some container ships to bypass Portland and unload and pick up cargo in Seattle. That made it more expensive for more than 1,000 regional businesses to get their goods to or from international markets.
The unions are awaiting an NLRB decision on which employees are entitled to the work. In the meantime, the agency says the longshoremen are engaging in slowdowns and stoppages that are affecting neutral parties.
Much of Thursday's almost four-hour hearing focused on whether the longshoremen did in fact work slowly on July 4. He added that the ship departed on schedule.
Contempt of court is a serious charge that requires clear evidence, the judge said. He noted that the first shift on July 4 started only hours after he imposed the temporary restraining order.
"Perhaps there were a few folks who didn't get the message," he said.
To make sure everyone gets the message this time, the judge gave the union five calendar days to provide a copy of his preliminary injunction to all its members.
Two container-shipping lines that serve the port's Terminal 6 have vessels scheduled to arrive by Friday. South Korea's Hanjin, which has been avoiding the port for several weeks, is scheduled to call on Portland before the end of the month, a port spokesman said.