Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

A Brouhaha Over Who Represents Two Employees

There is an ongoing dispute between two unions over which should represent two Port of Portland workers, and now it has become so acrimonious the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has intervened.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) dispute which union has the right to represent the two employees who plug in, unplug, and monitor refrigerated cargo containers. The Port’s operating contractor, ICTSI Oregon, recognizes the IBEW, so the ILWU has staged a work slowdown.

The slowdown has already caused one ship to bypass Portland for Oakland. Now the IBEW has declared its intent to picket the Port if it loses representative status.

The NLRB is now intervening. The Seattle regional office has filed suit in federal district court to declare the ILWU work slowdown unlawful. The ILWU has also filed for a court action, arguing it deserves to represent the two employees and isn’t staging a work slowdown.

This is concerning in light of the NLRB’s Specialty Healthcare decision, which will allow unions to form multiple smaller bargaining units (“micro-unions” to critics). The NLRB has already ruled that shoe salespeople at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman constitute a bargaining unit separate from other salespeople. Will micro-unions create more inter-union acrimony like that seen at the Port of Portland that will threaten business? Only time will tell.

Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsNLRB