U.S. labor officials are intensifying their attempted crackdown on longshoremen, trying to block their continued pursuit of disputed work at the Port of Portland.
National Labor Relations Board lawyers filed new charges Thursday, accusing the longshore union of threatening shipping companies if members don't get two jobs plugging, unplugging and monitoring refrigerated containers called reefers.
The board's Seattle branch also wants longshoremen to stop filing grievances and to drop a suit against ICTSI Oregon Inc., which operates the Port's container terminal.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has threatened, coerced and/or restrained commercial entities, the government lawyers said in a filing Thursday, despite an Aug. 13 Labor Relations Board decision awarding the work to electricians.
They want Administrative Law Judge William Schmidt to order longshoremen to quit seeking the reefer work at the center of a controversy that jammed cargo across the Northwest and beyond this summer, leading ships to bypass Portland.
A decision on the latest accusations, which Schmidt agreed Friday to hear during a Portland trial resuming Wednesday, could take months. From there, NLRB lawyers would face lengthy appeals through U.S. Circuit courts before securing potential penalties against the longshoremen.
"I certainly can't make the claim that I invented the statement that the wheels of justice move exceedingly slowly, but they do," said Ronald Hooks, NLRB regional director in Seattle.
And yet, Hooks could take a quicker route to seek penalties against the longshoremen, who insist that their West Coast collective bargaining agreement entitles them to the reefer work.
His agency could return to the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, asking him to hold longshoremen in contempt of court for violating a preliminary injunction he issued banning slowdowns and other activity.
Hooks didn't say Friday whether he would take that route. A spokeswoman for the longshore union did not respond to requests for comment.
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