US District Court Judge Michael Simon has ruled that a go-slow by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) against the Manila-based terminal operator, ICTSI, in Portland, Oregon, is legal as it does not violate the court's now lapsed 10-day restraining order.
Judge Simon had previously ordered the ILWU members to stop their go-slow for a 10-day cooling off period. That time has now elapsed. He had earlier appointed former Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski as the "special master for settlement," but he failed to resolve the issue over which union members should hold two full time reefer container jobs.
"This ruling is a victory for the union," said ILWU longshoreman Leal Sundet. "Today's decision validates the ILWU's view that longshoremen are being unfairly blamed for carriers leaving the Port of Portland when the real offender is the Philippines-based ICTSI."
Germany's Hapag-Lloyd and South Korea's Hanjin Shipping have cancelled direct calls since the slowdown started in early June. The dispute has also damaged river traffic as far as Lewiston, Idaho, 360 miles upstream because the container terminal's service have become unreliable and led to mile-long truck queues at the gates.
The ILWU is now waiting for the ruling by the National Labour Relations Board, which is also looking into the case.
At issue are two conflicting legal obligations. The terminal operator's lease agreement gives the jobs of plugging and unplugging reefer boxes to the members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) while the labour contract with the waterfront employers gives the work to the members of the ILWU.
While the facility operator, ICTSI Oregon Inc, a unit of ICTSI of Manila, took over the terminal in 2010, it was not part of the negotiations between its fellow members of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the ILWU, but it is bound to its terms as a PMA member. At the same time, it is also bound by the conflicting terms of its lease agreement with the Port of Portland.
Ironically, the PMA employers find themselves supporting the ILWU in upholding the labour contract while the port authority sides with ICTSI in upholding the lease agreement.