Union asks Biden administrator for help in Charleston harbor dispute

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A sign shows the location of a new South Carolina Ports Authority terminal named in honor of longtime State Senator Hugh Leatherman on Monday, October 25, 2021, in North Charleston, SC. Currently, the International Longshoremen’s Association is appealing to the Biden administration for help in resolving a labor dispute at the terminal. (AP Photo / Meg Kinnard)

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As port congestion across the country continues to restrict the U.S. supply chain, the union that represents dockers in South Carolina ports told The Associated Press it is calling on the Biden administration to assistance in a dispute related to a new marine terminal.

But the chief executive in charge of the state’s ports authority told AP that the Port of Charleston’s “hybrid” union-non-union employment model “has worked for the benefit” of all employees.

At issue is the September decision of an administrative law judge from the National Labor Relations Board, who ruled that the International Longshoremen’s Association could not prevent shipping companies from calling at the new Leatherman terminal in North Charleston.

The first billion-dollar phase of the terminal, named after longtime State Senator Hugh Leatherman, opened earlier this year and is operating at 35% of its current capacity. Under a contract with the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents ocean carriers, the union asserted that only its members would be those who operate heavy lifting equipment, such as cranes, at newly constructed terminals. in the state, such as Leatherman.

These cranes are currently operated by employees of the State Ports Authority, not by longshoremen.

Attorney General Alan Wilson and the South Carolina Ports Authority have filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union and the alliance. The case, Newsome said, accuses the two entities of pressuring carriers not to use Leatherman’s terminal, implementing what Newsome called a “secondary boycott” – an illegal tactic under the national labor relations law.

But, according to the judge who heard the complaint, the deal was aimed at preserving the union’s work, not at returning to previously unorganized jobs. Longshoremen, the judge wrote, cannot “threaten, restrict or coerce” shipping companies “to cease doing business with the South Carolina State Ports Authority, the State of South Carolina or any other person.”

In a statement provided to AP on Monday – the union’s first comments since the ruling – Kenny Riley of the International Longshoremen’s Association called South Carolina’s climate towards unions “hostile” and pledged to continue fighting the question in court. The association also said it would “seek the support of the Biden administration to advocate for a strong and sustainable future for unionized workers.”

South Carolina is a “right to work” state, which means workers cannot be coerced into joining unions, even if organizations represent them. According to data released earlier this year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina had the lowest unionization rate, at 2.9%.

Newsome, in an interview with AP, said “there is no benefit to” Port Authority employees who join the union, where he said they would not be paid as well as they did. currently are.

“I think our guys would take a pay cut if they went to work for the union,” Newsome said.

Last month, President Joe Biden announced an agreement to expand the Port of Los Angeles to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in an attempt to contain inflation. It comes as prices keep climbing and container ships wait to dock, a traffic jam threatening the U.S. economy and holiday shopping.

Prices are soaring largely because container ships are stranded in ports and because goods unloaded await trucks, leading to massive shortages and delays that have caused inflation to surge longer than expected.

Regarding the port’s downturn, Riley blamed South Carolina Republican leaders, like Wilson and Governor Henry McMaster, for Leatherman’s terminal “almost inactive” as they “try to score political points” with it. the NLRB case. The ordeal, he said, represented “an ugly model of relentless effort by the most ardent union in the state to break down Republican lawmakers to oppress unionism, no matter what the cost or cost. the results “.

Newsome, conversely, said it was the union whose tactics primarily intimidated foreign-owned carriers into using Leatherman’s terminal for fear of breaking U.S. labor laws, allowing thus supply chain problems to escalate.

“There’s no reason they can’t call there,” Newsome said of the Leatherman terminal, which currently houses a shipping company, Hapag-Lloyd. “When we have supply chain issues, the wazoo in this country… why compel this terminal? There’s no reason to.”


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