Big Labor Strife Imperils Port of Portland Jobs

Right to Work supporters across America have long understood that monopolistic unionism as promoted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and other federal statutes undercuts employee productivity in multiple ways.

But in the nearly 80 years that the pro-forced unionism NLRA has been on the books, few observers have described the harmful impact of Big Labor-instigated class warfare in the workplace as vividly as National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Wedekind recently did.

In an 18-page decision issued in late May, the  San Francisco judge supplied extraordinarily detailed evidence of how two years ago bosses of the International Longshore Workers Union Local 8 and the ILWU itself commenced ordering illegal employee shutdowns at the Port of Portland in Oregon.

As Wedekind’s opinion explained, longshore union chiefs’ motive for allegedly instigating the illegal slowdowns was to protest the assignment of work that involves the plugging, unplugging, and monitoring of refrigerated containers after they are unloaded from vessels to electricians employed by the port.

In order to punish ICTSI Oregon, Inc., the company that operates Terminal 6.  the opinion continued, for the assignment of dockside “reefer” work to electricians, ILWU kingpins allegedly began “directing intermittent slowdowns and work stoppages . . . in early June 2012.”

According to the judge, ample contemporary evidence indicates longshoremen have indeed “deliberately worked in a less productive manner.”

They have operated their cranes “at a reduced speed,” refused to “hoist their cranes in ‘bypass mode’ to discharge high containers,” refused to “move two 20-foot containers  . . . at a time on older trailers,” and driven their trucks “slowly” while taking “long routes around the yard.”

As a consequence of the recurrent slowdowns, major shipping firms may ultimately cease making stops at the Port of Portland.

Wedekind should be commended for his careful weighing of the evidence, and for warning ILWU bosses that they could face contempt sanctions if the apparent workplace sabotage continues.  Unfortunately, it is not clear that the judge’s stern words will be any more effective in deterring illegal job actions at the Port of Portland than previous judicial actions finding that the ILWU hierarchy had crossed the line seem to have been.

Although punishing ICTSI over a job assignment decision it doesn’t even control and intentionally slowing down port work are both technically illegal, federal labor law as a whole looks kindly on union bosses who resort to militant tactics.

As the late jurist and legal scholar Robert Bork wrote back in the 1960’s, the NLRA favors the “organization of employees into fighting groups.”  And more than any other provisions, the NLRA provisions empowering Big Labor to foist “exclusive” union representation on all employees, including union nonmembers as well as members, in a government-delineated “bargaining unit” promote strife in the American workplace.

The judicial process, even in the able hands of a legal professional like Wedekind, is ill-equipped to handle the abuses the NLRA fosters.  The genuine solution is to reform the NLRA itself by removing its pro-union monopoly provisions.