CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - A dispute that came to blows over the unloading of a vessel by nonunion employees has led Ports America, the largest private terminal operator in the Americas, and stevedores serving marine shipping companies calling the Port of Charleston to sue the longshoremen's union.
The plaintiffs, which also include the SSA Cooper stevedoring firm, asked the court for a temporary restraining order to put the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 back to work after union stevedores walked off the job at the S.C. State Ports Authority's Columbus Street terminal in protest of another ship that was being unloaded by nonunion workers. The order would also prevent ILA from impeding the work of nonunion dock workers.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Benjamin P. Glass of the Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, told Courthouse News in an email that the filing of the complaint seems to have done the trick. The matter appears to be resolved, "for now," Glass said.
Glass added that the labor dispute was unrelated to another hot-button union issue in Charleston - the ongoing dispute between the National Labor Relations Board and The Boeing Co. over the aerospace giant's decision to locate a major manufacturing facility here rather than in heavily-unionized Seattle.
"This was in no way related to the Boeing case," he said. "I don't believe there was any larger political statement intended, but I can't really speak to the motivations of the workers involved."
According to the complaint, members of Local 1422 who were assigned to unload three ships docked at the Columbus Street Terminal in Charleston walked off the job on May 23 and refused to return to work after nonunion labor began unloading another ship calling on the terminal.
Prior to their walk-out, at least one member of the union assaulted one of the nonunion workers hired to unload the other vessel.
Ports America and the stevedores said Local 1422 President Kenny Riley told them he had no control over his members with regard to the conflict and was unable to order them back to work.
The plaintiffs said the union's refusal to unload the three vessels, operated, respectively, by the ARC Line, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics and Hoegh Autoliners, caused them "severe financial hardship" and threatened delays as other cargo ships were due at the terminal.
The annual value of the contracts with the effected steamship lines is more than $2 million, the complaint said.
"The failure and refusal of Local 1422 and its members to perform their contracted obligation to load and unload these ships is based on their objection to the use of non-union labor to unload other ships, in violation of the South Carolina Right to Work statute and their contractual obligations," the complaint said. "Accordingly, the work stoppage is illegal."
Further, the complaint said, "Defendant's activity is not protected or preempted by Federal law and is clearly contrary to established South Carolina state law in that it constitutes unlawful interference with right to work."
Specifically, the complaint alleges that the union members engaged in an unlawful use of force and intimidation to stop work, and committed acts that could, if prosecuted, result in prison terms of two to five years, and fines. The alleged assaults, they pointed out, are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act.
"The foregoing acts of violence and acts of violence have impeded, and are continuing to impede, plaintiffs and their employees, and the plaintiffs' contractors and subcontractors and their employees, in the performance of the normal business relations and plaintiff's contractual obligations," according to the complaint.
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