Judge orders testimony in Evergreen case

Judge orders testimony in Evergreen case

A federal judge will hear witnesses' testimony before deciding whether Evergreen America Corp. must bargain with the International Longshoremen's Association on a contract for 115 office workers who rejected ILA representation in a disputed election.

The ruling Friday by U.S. District Court Judge William Bassler was a victory for Evergreen, which is resisting the ILA's efforts to organize workers at the company's Jersey City, N.J., offices.

The workers voted 61-52 against unionization in a July 2002 referendum that the ILA later claimed was tainted by illegal company coercion. Responding to the ILA's allegations, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint accusing the company of unfair labor practices.

The NLRB also asked the court to require Evergreen to bargain with the ILA while the agency completes what are expected to be lengthy proceedings. The NLRB said it believes evidence of company wrongdoing was so strong that a second referendum could not be fairly conducted. "There is no way we can go back and unbake the bread into flour, eggs and water," said NLRB attorney Dorothy Foley.

Evergreen denies any wrongdoing, and the company's attorneys say it would be unfair to require the company to recognize a union that hasn't been chosen by a majority of workers. They said Judge Bassler should conduct a full hearing, with witnesses and cross-examination. The NLRB had argued that written affidavits would be sufficient.

Bassler said that any appeals court that considers the case later should have "a full and complete record." He set an April 20 start for a hearing he said could last a week. Each side will be able to present as many as five witnesses, in addition to testimony in depositions before the hearing.

In addition to the office workers, the ILA and Evergreen are battling over unionization of four port captains and a port engineer in New Jersey. That dispute led to a 28-day strike that crippled Evergreen's East Coast operations last summer. Evergreen reassured customers that while it will continue to resist unionization of its office workers, it will abide by court rulings to prevent any service interruption.