ILA Accused of Unfair Labor Practices for New Charleston Terminal

SCPA charges union with unfair labor practices related to new terminal
Terminal yard largely completed as of December 2020 - Walter Lagarenne photo courtesy of SCPA

Published Jan 7, 2021 5:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and the South Carolina Ports Authority filed an unfair labor practice charge against the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX). At issue is Charleston’s new container terminal scheduled to open in March after an investment of $1.7 billion.

The charge alleges that the ILA and USMX violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by pressuring ocean carrier customers not to use the state’s new Hugh Leatherman Terminal. It is alleged that the two organizations attempt to implement what is known as a secondary boycott, in which the ILA and USMX agreed to hurt a third party, in this case, the SC Ports Authority. Secondary boycotts are illegal under the NLRA.

“The union is expected to follow the rule of law like everyone else,” said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. “South Carolina has long been a staunch right-to-work state and the union cannot undermine our laws guaranteeing the right to work. Those laws do not permit the union to take over jobs from state employees.”

The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) is responsible for the ownership and operation of the Port of Charleston including the new terminal. Under a “hybrid” working model, the SCPA employs an experienced workforce of crane and lift machine operators with heavy lift maintenance staff, which work alongside three crafts of the International Longshoremen’s Association (deep sea, clerks and checkers, and mechanics). South Carolina says that this labor model provides the best combination of productivity, efficiency, and cost in the U.S. port industry.

The complaint that was filed yesterday contends that the ILA has long aspired to perform all of the waterfront work in South Atlantic ports, including the work being done by the state employees of the SCPA. After the Hugh Leatherman Terminal was permitted and construction was underway, they charge that the ILA added a provision to its master contract with the USMX that the ILA is now claiming applies to the new terminal. Part of that provision is that USMX members may be prohibited from using a new facility if work at that facility is not performed by Master Contract bargaining unit employees.

The unfair labor complaint says that this new clause attempts to take away jobs from state employees and goes against the existing balance of the hybrid working model without the agreement of the SC Ports Authority.