A U.S. district court in Oregon on Oct. 15 issued a preliminary injunction intended to prevent the International Longshore and Warehouse Union from picketing a barge company that shuttles grain on the Snake and Columbia rivers to the Marubeni-Columbia Grain elevator in Portland.
Judge Ann Aiken stated that the ILWU demonstrations, which began in August, constitute an illegal secondary boycott of Tidewater Barge Lines, and the union’s actions are interfering with the ability of the barge company to conduct its business, which is to transport grain in interstate commerce.
The ILWU and its Local 4 and Local 8 unions said the workers are exercising their free-speech rights. ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent noted that the court’s ruling was preliminary in nature. “There has been no final ruling on the merits of Tidewater’s unfair labor practice charge against the union,” she said.
Anne Pomerantz, acting regional director of the 19th Region of the National Labor Relations Board, brought the request for preliminary relief to Judge Aiken. An NLRB administrative law judge is scheduled next month to hear arguments in the case.
Relations between the ILWU and a half-dozen grain export elevators in the Pacific Northwesthave been sour since the union’s contract with the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association expired in September 2012.
Negotiations for a new contract hit an impasse earlier this year, and the union in February was locked out of an elevator in Vancouver, Wash., operated by United Grain Corp. Columbia Grain in Portland locked out the union in May.
Judge Aiken stated that because the ILWU contract dispute is with Columbia Grain, the union should limit its picketing to that company’s facility. Tidewater is not a party to the contract and therefore ILWU picketing of its operations constitutes an illegal secondary boycott, the judge stated.
Furthermore, the evidence indicates that the union’s waterborne picketing of Tidewater’s barge operations using small water craft is causing the company irreparable economic harm, the judge said. She noted that the picketing has forced Tidewater to idle about 35 percent of its active grain fleet.
If the picketing is allowed to continue, there is a “strong showing of the likelihood of irreparable harm to Tidewater,” Judge Aiken said.
Sargent said the court’s ruling limits the ILWU’s ability to defend its members that have been locked out of the grain elevator. “The NLRB, and now the courts, are saying that the only recourse locked-out American workers have against corporate bullying is to stand in a designated area to protest and to not interfere with the company’s business model in any way,” Sargent said.