ILWU wants judge to reverse or reduce $93.6 million award or order new trial

crabe at Port of Portland's Terminal 6

The International Longshore and Harbor Workers Union (ILWU) is asking a federal district judge to reverse or reduce a jury verdict that awarded the former operator of the container terminal in the Port of Portland, Oregon, $93.6 million or hold a new trial.

The dockworker union has said the entry of the Nov. 5, 2019 verdict against it and its Local 8 could drive it into bankruptcy.

In a 59-page motion filed Jan. 3, 2020 the ILWU moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) or alternatively, for remittitur (a reduction in the award) or a new trial.

“The jury’s verdict in this case is contrary to law and lacks a legally sufficient evidentiary basis. Indeed, entry of judgment based on the erroneous verdict and excessive damages award would subvert our national labor policy,” ILWU argued. “Instead, the court should grant JMOL for the ILWU. If that does not dispose of this case entirely, the court should reduce the damages award to $3,983,669. And if ICTSI rejects that remittitur, the court should grant a new trial.”

A jury sitting in the Federal District Court for the District of Oregon made the award in November in favor of the stevedore ICTSI, Oregon Inc., which had operated Port of Portland’s Terminal 6.

ICTSI, a subsidiary of Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services, had clashed with the union for years. One dispute grew out of a disagreement over whether the ILWU or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had jurisdiction over two jobs plugging in refrigerated containers while they were at the terminal.

ILWU President Willie Adams said ICTSI had created and promoted “a miserable working environment for longshore workers” and that its operation at Terminal 6 in the Port of Portland was “doomed to fail.”

Judge Michael H. Simon had stayed the jury verdict on Nov. 8, noting it was “quite high and may result in the bankruptcy of a union that traces its beginnings to at least 1933 and arguably into the 19th century.”

The ILWU argued that the verdict was “not only excessive, it is fundamentally unreasonable.”

“The verdict shows that the jury misunderstood the law, the facts and economic reality. Indeed, this is not merely a case of excessive damages — though it is certainly that. The jury also misunderstood the substantive law under the Taft-Hartley Act. For example, the jury found that neither the International nor Local 8 participated in any lawful labor activities at any time from August 14, 2013, to March 31, 2017,” it said. “But the undisputed evidence — including the testimony of ICTSI’s own witnesses — proves that the ILWU certainly participated in at least some lawful labor activities in that period.”

The ILWU was critical of calculations by ICTSI’s damages experts, including assumptions that ICTSI would be able to instantaneously replace 80% of its business after Hanjin Shipping Company became insolvent in 2016.