Jury Rules Against ILWU in Portland Container Terminal Case

Terminal 6 in its operating days (file image courtesy Port of Portland)

Published Nov 5, 2019 8:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

 After more than seven years of civil litigation, a federal jury has ruled that a dispute over which union got to plug and unplug reefer containers was a substantial part of the reason that the port of Portland, Oregon lost all of its containerized ocean freight services.

In a judgement entered in part on Monday, the jury ruled that alleged unlawful labor practices by the International Longshore Workers' Union and its Local 8 were a substantial factor in causing $94 million in damage to Portland's container terminal operator, ICTSI, which pulled out of its contract with the port in 2017. 

The National Labor Relations Board previously determined that the ILWU had organized slowdowns at ICTSI’s Portland terminal in order to force the Port of Portland to give longshoremen the work of plugging and unplugging reefers – a task normally assigned to the Port’s union electricians, IBEW Local 48.

"By inducing and encouraging, since September 2012, longshoremen employed by ICTSI Oregon, Inc. at the Port of Portland to unnecessarily operate cranes and drive trucks in a slow and nonproductive manner, refuse to hoist cranes in bypass mode, and refuse to move two 20-foot containers at a time on older carts, in order to force or require ICTSI and carriers who call at terminal 6 to cease doing business with the Port, Respondents ILWU and Local 8 have engaged in unfair labor practices affecting commerce,” NLRB found in 2015. The D.C. circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld NLRB's decision in 2017. 

In its civil suit, ICTSI alleged that these slowdowns led to the loss of its service contracts with ocean carriers Hapag Lloyd America and (now-defunct) Hanjin Shipping, which together accounted for 98 percent of the terminal's business. After a brief period of deliberation on Monday, the federal jury found that ILWU's allegedly unlawful labor practices continued until March 2017 and contributed to $94 million worth of damages to ICTSI's business. The jury assigned 55 percent of the fault for damages to ILWU and 45 percent to the union's Local 8. 

 ILWU contests the jury's finding, and it intends to request a new trial or to ask the judge to lower the amount of the award. "Entry of judgment on the verdict will impose a heavy financial burden with serious collateral consequences, including bankruptcy," ILWU's counsel wrote, asking the court for a delay.