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ILWU and Portland Terminal Settle Long Dispute Which Bankrupted the Union

Portland Oregon container terminal
The long-running dispute between ILWU and terminal operator ICTSI in Portland, Oregon was settled for $20.5 million (Portland file photo)

Published Feb 2, 2024 5:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and International Container Terminal Services settled a more than decade’s long dispute involving the operation of Portland, Oregon’s sole container terminal which forced the ILWU to file for bankruptcy in September 2023. The ILWU had previously been found liable for damages caused to the terminal’s operations due to a series of “unlawful labor actions,” meant to coerce the terminal into changing work rules in favor of the union.

The two sides in the dispute as well as the International Transport Workers Federation reported that the agreement has been reached to settle the dispute which started in September 2012 and has been in the courts since 2017. The case had been pending a retrial on the damages award but was stayed by the 2023 bankruptcy filing.

“The ILWU settlement arises from the parties’ participation in several days of mediation during the ILWU’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case,” they reported. The bankruptcy will be voluntarily dismissed as part of the terms of the settlement. ICTSI which alleged it had lost millions of dollars in business and was forced to abandon terminal operations will receive $20.5 million under the terms of the settlement.

The National Labor Relations Board had sided with ICTSI in 2015 saying that the union had encouraged members to operate in a “slow and nonproductive manner.” The dispute was an inter-union rivalry that has also more recently appeared in Seattle. Electricians from rival union IBEW Local 48 were assigned the job of plugging and unplugging refrigerated containers, a job the ILWU asserted should be handled by its members while handling and moving containers in Portland. 

The ILWU wanted the two positions handling the electrical connections reassigned to its members and starting in 2012 organized slowdowns as it demanded the Port of Portland reassign the tasks. The NLRB in its finding said the union had refused to hoist cranes in a bypass mode, refused to move two 20-foot containers at a time, and refused other tasks that reduced the efficiency of the terminal. Carriers by 2017 had largely suspended operations to the terminal.

ICTSI caught in the jurisdictional fight between the two unions sued the ILWU and in 2019 a federal jury ruled in its favor. The jury initially awarded the operator $94 million in damages, but in 2020 it was reduced to $19 million. A retrial on damages was pending.

The ILWU last year filed bankruptcy saying it only had less than $12 million in assets. They said the bankruptcy would be used to implement a plan to resolve the long-running dispute. 

“The ITF welcomes this important development and commends the unity and strength of our brothers and sisters in the ILWU during this long and uncertain period,” said Paddy Crumlin, International President of the ITF.

Similar inter-union jurisdictional disputes have plagued other ports. In Seattle, a similar dispute centers on which union can handle maintenance and repair work and specifically tasks related to the use of cold ironing shore power at Terminal 5. In April 2023, the NLRB ruled against the ILWU in that dispute which is also in the courts. It also threatened to derail the master contract negotiations for all the West Coast ports in 2023.