39 DOCKERS SUE UNION, ALLEGING CORRUPTION

39 DOCKERS SUE UNION, ALLEGING CORRUPTION

Thirty-nine longshoremen have sued their union and a waterfront employers' representative, alleging unfair treatment, discrimination and union corruption.

The workers filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Tacoma Local 23 of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union; the international office of the same union; and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines, stevedore companies and cargo terminal operators on the West Coast.

UNION DENIES ALLEGATIONS

Local 23's attorney denied all of the allegations. The union looks forward to the opportunity "to clear its good name and prove, in court, that the union founded by Harry Bridges does not engage in such conduct," union attorney Bob Duggan said.

The lawsuit attacks a union whose efficiency and can-do attitude have been partially responsible for drawing some major shipping lines to the Port of Tacoma, thereby creating thousands of additional jobs in the community.

The 39 workers want a court injunction forcing the union to promote some or all of them so they receive steady work and full benefits, the lawsuit said.

They also want a court order that restrains the union from arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal job dispatching practices, as well as damages to be determined at trial for lost and future wages, emotional stress and attorneys' fees, the lawsuit said.

The complaining longshoremen are "casual employees" who are dispatched to individual ship loading and unloading jobs daily from a hiring hall, which is run jointly by the Tacoma Local 23 and Pacific Maritime Association. They only receive work when it's available, after registered longshoremen are sent to jobs.

JOBS LIMITED BY NEEDS

The 500-member union's goal is to promote as many casuals as possible, but the jobs are limited by employer needs, Mr. Duggan said.

This year, the union has promoted 61 of 221 casuals, Mr. Duggan said. Any time there's a selection process, those not selected find reason to complain and that's understandable, he said. What isn't understandable, he said, is the denouncing of Local 23's good name with baseless allegations.

The casual longshoremen claim that the union hiring hall isn't operated according to procedures established under local rules and the West Coast collective bargaining agreement of 1993-96 between the international union and PMA.

Dispatching to jobs has been based on rewarding or punishing individuals for certain union activities and "to reward friends and relatives of selected (union) officers, officials and employees or members of Local 23," the lawsuit said.

The workers' attorney, Warren Martin, wouldn't disclose further details. The lawsuit said Local 23, in charge of training for longshoremen, was arbitrary in assigning training for work that would have allowed the complaining casuals to be eligible for advancement by increasing their hours of work.

GOAL IS STEADY WORK

The goal of most casuals is to work enough hours to become registered so they can obtain steady work and full benefits. Longshoremen are paid $22.68 an hour by union contract at West Coast ports.

In February, Local 23 registered 61 of 221 casual longshoremen to maintain a total registered work force of about 500. The lawsuit said that the 39 casuals suffered from "discrimination in training activities," which adversely affected the number of hours they worked. Hours worked in the industry since 1985 was the criterion for registration, Mr. Duggan said.

The lawsuit follows a public protest by some of the same plaintiffs last month about some of the same issues. Thirty-five longshoremen claimed that the union was discriminating against them on the basis of age, race or gender.

Casual longshoremen interviewed then said some casuals were given more work than others, and they believed favoritism by dispatchers was a primary reason.