A federal labor agency claims that longshoremen are blocking the movement of grain barges in defiance of a court order.
Last year, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was ordered to stop waterborne pickets of vessels owned by Tidewater Barge Lines.
The company should not be subject to pickets because it’s a neutral party with no influence on an ongoing labor dispute between the union and several Northwest grain exporters, according to the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken later cited the ILWU for contempt for ignoring the order but agreed to suspend hefty fines if the union stopped the pickets.
The National Labor Relations Board now claims that ILWU again breached the order in April and its “picketing activities of Tidewater are ongoing with no apparent end in sight.”
In the most recent incidents, longshoremen in a “ski boat” prevented tug boats from moving grain barges docked near Pasco, Wash., downriver, the NLRB said.
The activity also stopped grain from being unloaded from Tri-Cities Grain, an elevator co-owned by Tidewater, the agency said.
Tidewater loses more than $10,000 for every scheduled barge that it’s unable to move downriver, NLRB said.
The NLRB has asked the judge to impose fines on the union, including those that were suspended last year.
The ILWU denies violating the previous court order when it “peacefully publicized” its dispute with a grain handler.
Longshoremen in a “water-ski boat” complied with orders from sheriff’s deputies to stay away from tugboats on the Snake river near Pasco, according to a response filed by ILWU.
The union also halted land-based pickets of Tri-Cities Grain when it learned that Tidewater was a partial owner of the facility, ILWU said.
Even if longshoremen did violate the court order — which the union denies — the judge should not impose the “excessive and unlawful sanctions” sought by NLRB, the document said.
The fines could total about $850,000, which “would dwarf the amount of actual damages incurred by Tidewater,” the union said.
ILWU and several Northwest grain handlers have been arguing about workplace rules and hiring practices since a labor contract expired in 2012.
In 2013, two grain handlers — United Grain in Vancouver, Wash., and Columbia Grain in Portland, Ore. — locked out union workers due to allegations of sabotage and slowdowns.
In response, longshoremen have been picketing facilities owned by the two grain handlers.
Earlier this year, the NLRB found that the grain handlers engaged in unfair labor practices by locking out the longshoremen.
The agency also found that ILWU committed unfair labor practices when longshoremen threatened managers and assaulted security guards employed by the grain handlers.