Judge: Longshoremen violate court order

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

A federal judge has cited the longshoremen's union for contempt of court for disrupting grain shipments.

The longshoremen’s union has violated a court order for the second time by blocking grain shipments, according to a federal judge.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is in a labor contract dispute with several Northwest grain handlers.

Two of those grain exporters — Columbia Grain in Portland, Ore., and United Grain in Vancouver, Wash. — locked out union workers from their facilities.

As part of its picket activities, the ILWU targeted Tidewater Barge Lines, a company that moves grain along the Columbia and Snake rivers to the export terminals.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ordered longshoremen to stop disrupting grain barges because Tidewater is a neutral company with no power to affect labor negotiations.

In October 2013, the National Labor Relations Board complained to the judge that longshoremen have continued to harass tug boats attempting to move barges near Portland, Ore.

Aiken agreed that ILWU had violated the previous injunction but suspended hefty fines against the union.

In April, the agency claimed longshoremen had resumed waterborne pickets by preventing barges from Tri-Cities Grain in Pasco, Wash., from moving downriver.

Attorneys for ILWU argued that longshoremen were simply publicizing their dispute with grain exporters and didn’t violate the injunction.

Even if they did breach the order, the judge should refuse to impose the “excessive” fines of $850,000 sought by the agency, union attorneys said.

Aiken has now rejected arguments that longshoremen complied with the injunction and cited ILWU for contempt of court.

However, she again declined to issue any fines.

Longshoremen on picket boats did prevent tug boat crews from moving grain barges from Pasco to the downriver export facilities on three separate occasions, she said.

Their activities blocked shipment of seven barged filled with grain, costing Tidewater about $10,500 per barge, the judge said.

Even so, Aiken said she wouldn’t impose fines because such penalties are meant to “coerce compliance” with a court order, and longshoremen have stopped targeting Tidewater since the April incidents.

The judge also noted that Tidewater has a lawsuit pending against ILWU seeking damages for the waterborne pickets, which may provide the company with a “means of compensation.”

Since the National Labor Relations Board and Tidewater had to take legal action against the ILWU’s actions, Aiken said the union should pay their attorney fees for that portion of the litigation.

The agency and Tidewater were ordered to submit affidavits specifying their legal expenses, to which the longshoremen’s union can object.



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