The judge handling the volatile jurisdictional dispute at a grain terminal in Washington provided little clarification of the situation by suggesting a labor arbitrator should determine the legality of the working agreement between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Port of Longview.
The working agreement plays a key role in the dispute because the union contends that the agreement clearly stipulates the use of ILWU labor while the grain terminal operator, EGT, charges that the agreement violates federal labor law.
EGT, the port and the ILWU had hoped for a definitive answer in this matter when they asked Judge Ronald Leighton in Tacoma to issue a summary judgment declaring one side or the other the winner in this matter. Judge Leighton denied the request for a summary judgment, but rather instructed the parties to file with his court by Oct. 17 legal briefs supporting their positions.
Judge Leighton added another layer of uncertainty by suggesting there are several venues for proceeding further, including turning the matter over to a labor arbitrator.
Frank Randolph, the attorney representing the Port of Longview, interpreted the ruling as meaning the matter could be turned over to a local arbitrator appointed by the ILWU and the maritime employer organization, the Pacific Maritime Association. He noted, however, that EGT is not a member of the PMA
The judge’s ruling could also be interpreted as meaning the case should be turned over to a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge. Finally, Judge Leighton held open the possibility that the case could remain in his court, Randolph.
Each side claimed a partial victory in this latest round of legal wrangling. The ILWU said Judge Leighton’s ruling confirms that the mandatory use of ILWU labor at the grain terminal is “clearly identified” in the working agreement between the port and the union so EGT can no longer deny this reality.
EGT’s CEO, Larry Clarke, said Judge Leighton’s ruling does not obligate the company to hire ILWU labor. “Additionally, we believe that application of the port’s working agreement violates federal law,” Clarke said.
Once the briefs are submitted, Judge Leighton may set a date for oral arguments, or he may choose to issue a ruling without taking oral arguments, Randolph said.