ILWU reefer case headed back to court


International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Philippines-based container terminal company ICTSI are headed for a new trial to determine damages the union owes the company because of a 2012 slowdown at the Port of Portland. Judges for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Jan. 18 that they don’t have jurisdiction to rule on appeals filed by both parties. Instead union and company will have to continue the case in district court, they ruled.

The case stems from the high-profile labor dispute involving ILWU, the Port of Portland, and ICTSI, which  leased Terminal 6 from the Port in 2010. ICTSI is a member of the Pacific Maritime Association, an employer group that has a collective bargaining agreement with ILWU under which refrigerated container handling, or “reefer work,” is supposed to be done by ILWU members. But for decades when the Port operated the terminal itself, the reefer work had been done by members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). To assert its jurisdiction, ILWU engaged in work slowdowns throughout 2012. ICTSI halted shipping at Terminal 6 in 2017, and took its case to the National Labor Relations Board and federal court, arguing that ILWU’s actions were unfair labor practices, and that the union was liable for the company’s economic losses.

A jury in 2019 awarded ICTSI $93.5 million in damages—to be paid by ILWU’s national union and Portland-based Local 8. [ILWU’s national affiliate has assets of $9.5 million and Local 8 has assets of $288,000, according to their most recent financial reporting.] But a federal judge determined in March 2020 that the damage calculation was based on flawed assumptions and lowered the amount to $19 million. ICTSI rejected the lowering of damages, and the parties have been moving towards a second trial to reconsider the amount of damages owed. In the meantime, ILWU challenged whether ICTSI has sufficient evidence to prove its case, and ICTSI challenged the court’s decision to grant a new trial. The latest ruling dismisses those challenges.

James Sigel, a San Francisco attorney who handles similar jurisdictional cases, thinks the case is headed for another trial to determine the damages, unless the two sides settle.

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