The US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that machinist jobs at a Seattle marine terminal do not belong to the US International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), further clouding the status of coastwide longshore contract negotiations that are nearing a year. The ILWU said Friday it will appeal the ruling.
The controversial jurisdictional issue involving Terminal 5 in Seattle had reportedly kept talks between the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) at a standstill for months. In early February, sources said talks between the sides resumed when they agreed to set aside the T-5 matter, although they appear no closer to reaching a new contract.
At issue at the T-5 terminal, operated by SSA Marine, is competing jurisdictional claims by the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM) over approximately 25 port mechanics jobs. It has become an issue in coastwide longshore labor talks because the ILWU accused SSA Marine of conspiring with IAM to “trigger” an NLRB hearing into ILWU’s jurisdictional claim.
“The ILWU is confident that the NLRB decision, which cannot go into effect without court approval, will on appeal be overturned as legally wrong,” Cam Williams, ILWU coast committeeman, said in a statement. “The ILWU expects that the companies signatory to its collective bargaining agreement abide by the terms of the contract they negotiated.”
The process of moving the T-5 matter through the courts could easily take a year or two, sources told the Journal of Commerce, raising questions about how that will affect labor talks between the ILWU and PMA. On the other hand, because the ILWU’s demands for jurisdiction over machinists’ jobs at Terminal 5 involve a single terminal in Seattle, ILWU coastwide negotiators may choose to move forward with the talks while the legal appeals over T-5 continue, said a source who requested anonymity.
Strong words from NLRB
Sources told the Journal of Commerce Friday they were surprised by the strong words that NLRB Chairman Lauren McFerran and two of the board’s members used in the ruling. The NLRB instructed the ILWU to “cease and desist from threatening, coercing or restraining” SSA Marine from assigning maintenance and repair work to members of the IAM. The order also instructed the ILWU to cease “pursuing lost work opportunity claims” at T-5.
In its coastwide contract negotiations with the PMA, which represents terminal operators and shipping lines, the ILWU has cited resolution of the T-5 jurisdictional dispute as a key issue in the negotiations. The ILWU said that in the 2008 coastwide contract, it agreed it would not stand in the way of individual terminal operators who chose to automate cargo-handling activities. The quid pro quo, according to the ILWU, was that employers would assign jobs involved in future jurisdictional disputes to the ILWU.
Thursday’s NLRB ruling said that the ILWU, by continuing to pursue its “lost work opportunity claims” under the 2008 ILWU-PMA coastwide contract, “has engaged in unfair labor practices in violation of … the National Labor Relations Act.”
The NLRB in Thursday’s ruling ordered the ILWU to notify the PMA-ILWU Joint Coast Labor Committee established by the 2008 coastwide contract that it will no longer pursue its lost work opportunity claims, and to post notices “in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted” indicating that it will no longer pursue those claims with the ILWU-PMA coast arbitrator.
Source: Journal of Commerce