Judge rules NLRB overstepped its authority in Portland port dispute

Labor disagreement resulted in illegal slowdown last year

PORTLAND — A federal judge has reopened the dispute over which union workers at the Port of Portland should perform the task of plugging and unplugging refrigerated cargo containers.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman ruled Monday that the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., overstepped its authority last August when it awarded the work to union electricians instead of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union.

The Pacific Maritime Association successfully argued the NLRB does not have jurisdiction in a disagreement in which one group of workers is employed by a government agency — the Port of Portland. The jobs dispute prompted longshoremen to engage in an illegal slowdown early last summer.

The action led to truck traffic being backed up for more than a mile and led container-shipping lines to briefly divert ships to other ports.

A judge then ordered the longshoremen to work at regular speed, saying the slowdown had done serious economic harm to the Pacific Northwest.

"Who knows what's going to happen at this point," said Ronald Hooks, regional director of the NLRB in Seattle.

"It certainly puts a cloud over the issue again. I think, at a minimum, we're going to have to wait and see if the board contests (the ruling)."

Norman Malbin, attorney for Local 48 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The issue centers on jobs the electrical workers have done for almost 40 years under a deal with the Port of Portland.

The disagreement arose after the Port in 2010 leased Terminal 6 operations to ICTSI Oregon Inc., a subsidiary of a company in the Philippines.

Though the lease states electrical workers should continue performing the work, the longshoremen contend the jobs must switch to them because of the collective bargaining agreement between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, of which ICTSI is a member.

Leal Sundet, an ILWU coast committeeman, said in a statement that Mosman's decision "confirms what the union has been saying all along — that the board's authority is limited, and that in this case it should have respected our internal dispute resolution process."

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