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ILWU shenanigans at Port of Portland may bankrupt the dockworker union

PortandTerminal.com, December 3, 2019

“How a feud over two jobs tipped the West Coast longshore union toward bankruptcy”

SEATTLE, WA – If you enjoyed watching Netflix’s “The Irishman”, you’re going to love this story. It doesn’t get crazier sounding than this. Los Angeles Time’s reporter Richard Read published a piece a few days ago about how a longstanding feud over two dockworker jobs may just end up putting the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) into bankruptcy.

The story boils down to this

The ILWU tried to force container terminal operator ICTSI Oregon to hand over two dockworker jobs being done at the time by another union.

In 2012, the ILWU tried to pressure a container terminal operator, ICTSI Oregon, at the Port of Portland to hand over two jobs being done at the time by workers of another union. That’s right. All of this boils down to a beef over two dockworker jobs.

When they didn’t get what they wanted, the ILWU started making life difficult for ICSTI by sabotaging shipping traffic through labor slowdowns and work stoppages. This went on for four years.

Trucks back up outside the Port of Portland’s container terminal in 2012 due to ILWU work slowdowns

As a result of the ILWU’s shenanigans, shipping lines started abandoning the Port of Portland. In February 2015,  ICTSI’s largest customer Hanjin Shipping announced it would no longer call on Portland. Soon after, Hapag Lloyd followed suit and stopped calling on the Port of Portland as well. Who could blame them? The boxes weren’t moving.

READ: As ports automate union jobs, some workers are cheering on the robots

Finally, in 2017 ICSTI Oregon had had enough and bought its way out of its 25-year contract to operate the container terminal at the Port of Portland. Getting out of the contract with the port cost ICSTI $20 million.

Understandably, ICSTI Oregon was upset and took the ILWU to court to sue for their losses which they claimed were $135 million all totalled. They won. Earlier this month a jury in U.S. District Court in Portland found in ICTSI’s favor in a federal lawsuit and told the ILWU to pay the company $94 million in damages.

READ: $93.6M awarded to Port Terminal operator for losses due to dock workers actions

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press / published in 2014 in an article covering the conflict

Payback’s a bitch

Leal Sundet is the ILWU official who reportedly tried to pressure an ICTSI executive to hand over the two dockworker jobs. “I’m the guy that can f— you badly.” he is reported to have told the executive over a calamari lunch

They say that payback is a bitch. The ILWU doesn’t have the money to pay the lawsuit they just lost and may go bankrupt as a result.

The judge who presided over the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, had this to say:

“The amount of damages found by the jury is quite high and may result in the bankruptcy of a union that traces its beginnings to at least 1933 and arguably into the 19th century,”

Judge Simon plans to hear arguments Feb. 14 on whether he should uphold or trim the award.

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