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Judge cites longshoremen’s union for contempt

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

A federal judge has sanctioned the longshoremen's union for ignoring an order to stop picketing grain barges on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been cited for contempt of court.

The longshoremen’s union has been cited for contempt of court for ignoring a ruling to stop picketing grain barges.

On Oct. 31, a federal judge found that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union breached an earlier injunction.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken had previously ordered ILWU to stop interfering with Tidewater Barge Lines because it’s a neutral party in the union’s labor dispute with grain exporters.

The National Labor Relations Board recently complained to the judge that longshoremen have paid the injunction no heed.

“In fact, as the evidence makes clear, respondents are not only continuing their unlawful secondary picketing, but they are escalating their conduct, using more picket boats and more aggressive verbal communication with the Tidewater tugs,” the NLRB said in a court document.

The longshoremen’s union has been in a dispute with several grain handlers since last year, when a labor contract between the parties expired.

Earlier this year, longshoremen were locked out of export facilities in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., which prompted them to picket the sites.

During the summer, they also began picketing grain barges on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The union claimed they were permissible “primary pickets” because the grain in the barges was an extension of the handlers’ business.

The NLRB filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the longshoremen’s actions on behalf of the barge company. Aiken sided with the agency and issued an injunction prohibiting the waterborne pickets on Oct. 15.

Since the ruling, longshoremen’s picket boats have had several encounters with the Tidewater tug boats as they tried to move barges near Hayden Island in Portland, Ore., according to NLRB.

Picketers have shouted and cursed at the tug boats and demanded that they turn around, confronting them with six or seven picket boats — up from two or three picket boats before the injunction, the agency said.

“This confrontational unlawful picketing and coercive conduct shows no sign of abatement,” an NLRB court document said. “In fact, respondents appear to have become emboldened by the court’s order, rather than chastened by it.”

The NLRB asked Aiken to hold the longshoremen’s union in contempt of court, which could involve hefty fines against the ILWU.

Aiken has agreed to issue suspended fines for any further breaches of the order of $25,000 against the ILWU and its local organizations. Union officers would also be fined $5,000 per incident, and other individuals would be fined $2,500 per incident.

If the longshoremen’s union continues to violate the injunction, the court could then rescind the suspension and impose the fines against ILWU.

The judge has also directed the U.S. Marshals Service to “take any and all necessary actions, including but not limited to the use of reasonable force” to ensure the union abides by the order.

The ILWU opposed the petition for civil contempt, alleging that the agency had not proven all of its allegations and that some of its claims were inaccurate.

In a court document, the union also said the fines sought by ILWU are “excessive and would render the award punitive rather than merely coercing respondents’ compliance.”

The ILWU also objected to the request that the U.S. Marshals Service potentially arrest people to enforce the injunction, arguing there are “no grounds for any contempt order to include such grave and severe sanctions at this juncture.”



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