A federal judge intervened Tuesday morning in the union conflict at the Port of Portland. Judge Michael Simon ruled that the longshore union had to stop its slowdown. But he didn't take the disputed jobs away from the longshoremen. OPB reporter Rob Manning was in the courtroom, and later joined Beth Hyams in the studio to discuss the ongoing dispute.
Beth Hyams: This conflict has stalled traffic at a major cargo spot - Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland. We've heard about shippers going elsewhere to deliver their goods. Remind us of what's at the heart of this conflict?
Rob Manning: Two jobs - plugging and unplugging refrigerators at Terminal 6.
The longshore union says the jobs are theirs under their contract with the Pacific Maritime Association. Terminal 6 operator, ICTSI Oregon, is a member of that association. The maritime association agrees with the longshore union.
The electricians' union says the jobs are theirs. ICTSI and the Port of Portland side with them, and they all point to the lease between the port and ICTSI. That says the work is the port's to assign, and it contracts with the electricians.
BH: So, who does the judge think the jobs belong to - did he decide that today?
RM: No, but Judge Simon has been creative in how he describes the conflict. He summarizes it through his "one rock" analogy. In short: the two jobs amount to a rock, which you can only give away or sell once.
Judge Simon says through the two contracts I mentioned earlier ICTSI has promised one rock - the two jobs - to two different unions.
A week and a half ago, he asked former Gov. Ted Kulongoski to mediate this conflict. But Kulongoski had no agreement to offer today.
That failure essentially forced Judge Simon to do something.
BH: So what did he do?
RM: Judge Simon gave both sides something they wanted. First, he kept the work with the people who are doing the work now - the longshore union. That was what that union wanted, and the other side - the port, the electricians, ICTSI - reached an agreement before this morning's hearing to go along with that. However, they asked that a decision anticipated from the National Labor Relations Board be allowed to change that situation, if it went their way. The NLRB rep at today's meeting was critical of letting the ILWU - the longshore union - keep the jobs.
But the judge also ruled against the union slow-down.
BH: How did he arrive at that ruling?
RM: It's complex, but boils down to this: Judge Simon used a 35 year-old legal precedent to rule that the lease kept the refrigeration work with the port - and ICTSI doesn't have control of the work at issue. That means a protest related to that work was directed not at ICTSI, but at the port. And that makes the protests illegal. And that's why Judge Simon ruled the slowdown had to stop.
BH: That sounds definitive - but it's temporary?
RM: That's right. It's a ten-day restraining order.
Longer term, Judge Simon says he's willing to give the issue an expedited trial, but he says he'd like the parties to find a settlement.
The next test may come tomorrow, when one of the port's major shippers is scheduled to come to Terminal 6.
BH: Even on the Fourth of July. Thanks Rob.
RM: You're welcome.
This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.