Workers at Portland Port Terminal Falsified Time Sheets
by Maxine Bernstein
Union workers loading grain for international shipping at the Port of Portland's Terminal 5 inflated their own time cards and those of colleagues for more than four years, costing their employer, Columbia Export Terminal, more than $5 million, a federal lawsuit alleges.
The suit filed by Columbia Export Terminal claims members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Local 8 and Local 92 engaged in racketeering by conspiring to over bill their employer.
According to the suit, some workers submitted time sheets for employees who didn't work and weren't even at Terminal 5. Others split shifts, with one person working half a shift and another the other half but both submitting time sheets falsely indicating they had worked full shifts. Others didn't show up at all but their co-workers submitted time sheets showing the absent employee worked a full shift.
Columbia Export Terminal relied on the time sheets and submitted them to Pacific Maritime Association in California for payment. The association processed the payroll payments to the individual checking or savings accounts of union workers and charged the terminal for all the payments.
Further assessments were charged to the terminal, which contributed to the union's funds, meaning the union benefited from the overpayments in the form of members' dues, the suit alleges.
“The defendants' coordinated and systematic practice of submitting inflated time sheets over a period of more than four years is their regular way of conducting the business of Local 8 and Local 92 and is ongoing and continuing," the suit alleges.
Columbia Export Terminal has put the total loss discovered so far at $5,311,627 and is seeking to recover three times that amount in damages, or $15,934,881, as well as punitive damages from both the unions and more than 150 individual workers.
Craig Merrilees, communications director for the San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said it “borders on the bizarre" for a corporation to file a federal lawsuit “when they haven't even filed a grievance, or raised the slightest concern during ongoing contract negotiations about these alleged payroll or contract infractions."
“It also seems suspicious that Columbia Grain, owned by Japan's largest grain corporation is filing a lawsuit the day before negotiations are scheduled to resume with workers," Merrilees said, in an emailed response. “That kind of timing naturally raises questions about the corporation's true motives, and whether they filed this lawsuit as some sort of gimmick or negotiating tactic."
Pat McCormick, a spokesman for Columbia Export Terminal, said the suit isn't tied to contract negotiations with the union.
"The lawsuit speaks for itself, alleging persistent, pervasive and rampant time card fraud involving at least 150 individuals who sought pay and benefits they did not earn for work they did not perform," McCormick said.
The suit was filed Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Portland.
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