Longshoremen sue Port of Portland

Union targets payments to terminal operator hurt by earlier labor strife

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PORTLAND -- The International Longshore and Warehouse Union filed a federal lawsuit Thursday over money the Port of Portland agreed to pay its terminal operator to help cover losses caused by the work slowdowns and cargo diversions that highlighted this summer's labor strife.

The suit names the port and its executive director, Bill Wyatt. It seeks an injunction against the $4.7 million payment to ICTSI Oregon Inc., which operates the Port's container terminal.

The suit contends it is illegal for a public agency such as the Port of Portland to help one side or the other in a public sector labor dispute.

"The Port's handout to ICTSI is not only illegal, it's wrong," said Leal Sundet, an ILWU coast committeeman. "Our lawsuit aims to stop the port's direct interference in a private labor dispute and to keep the money in public hands, where it can be invested in local infrastructure."

The port said in a statement the lawsuit is "without merit."

The ILWU and the terminal operator have been in a dispute over whether Longshoremen or union electricians should perform the work of plugging and unplugging refrigerated shipping containers. The terminal operator, citing the terms of its 25-year lease with the port, said the electricians should have the work.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of the electricians Monday, but the ILWU has said the fight is not finished.

The labor problems disrupted the flow of cargo at the port earlier this summer. Truck queues stretched for more than a mile in June because workers inside the container yard engaged in slowdown tactics. The decline in production led container ships to temporarily bypass Portland.

Sundet also criticized the port for spending public money to lure carriers back to Portland despite unresolved labor issues: "The port is literally bribing (Pacific Maritime Association) companies to call Portland."