NLRB Awards Disputed
by Steven DuBois, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The National Labor Relations Board has awarded a pair of disputed jobs at the Port of Portland to union electricians, setting the table for renewed tension at the North Portland container terminal.
In a ruling released Monday afternoon, the NLRB rejected arguments from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that its workers should perform the task of plugging and unplugging refrigerated cargo containers known as reefers.
The conflict over what amounts to two jobs prompted longshoremen to engage in an illegal slowdown in June and early July. The action forced truck traffic to be backed up for more than a mile and led the two main container-shipping lines that serve the port's Terminal 6, Germany's Hapag-Lloyd AG and South Korea's Hanjin, to divert ships to other ports. Both have resumed their Portland trips, and have ships scheduled to arrive later this week.
A federal judge last month ordered the longshoremen to work at regular speed, saying the boycott had done "serious economic harm to the region,"
More than 1,000 businesses, primarily in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, depend on the container terminal to get their goods to or from international markets. When ships are diverted and cargo must be rerouted, that adds costs to shippers and harmful delays to companies importing or exporting seasonal or perishable items.
The dispute centers on jobs the electrical workers have done for almost 40 years under a deal with the Port of Portland.
The disagreement arose after the Port in 2010 leased Terminal 6 operations to ICTSI Oregon Inc., a subsidiary of a company in the Philippines.
Though the lease states electrical workers should continue performing the work, the longshoremen contend the jobs must switch to them because of the collective bargaining agreement between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, of which ICTSI is a member.
The NLRB said it relied on collective bargaining agreements, employer preference and past practice when making its decision. The board cited the testimony of Sam Ruda, the Port of Portland's chief commercial officer, who said officials insisted during negotiations with ICTSI that "historic work jurisdictions be maintained" when the new terminal operator took over the facility.
"We note that the factor of employer preference, although not itself determinative, is entitled to substantial weight," the NLRB ruling states.
A lawyer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers praised the decision.
"Local 48 has been doing this work for 38 years," Norman Malbin told The Oregonian. "I'm glad to be vindicated by the federal agency with the authority to make these decisions."
Leal Sundet, an ILWU coast committeeman, said in a statement late Monday the decision was not a surprise because the process is "far from fair."
"No matter how much public money the Port throws at ICTSI and the carriers, the ILWU/PMA labor agreement that governs all West Coast employers clearly says that Hanjin and Hapag-Lloyd must assign this work to ILWU represented longshoremen," said Sundet, who was referring to $4.7 million the Port of Portland recently agreed to pay ICTSI to help defray losses caused by the labor strife.Sundet's statement did not say whether the union would appeal the decision.
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