Resolving ongoing legal issues in Longview

In the January 2012 issue of the Dispatcher, we reported that EGT had signed a contract with ILWU Local 21, ending a bitter and hard fought labor dispute, but that many legal issues remained unresolved. Legal issues that could not be resolved by a settlement between the ILWU and EGT include the ILWU’s appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals of $300,000 in contempt fines ordered by the Federal District Court, the ILWU’s ongoing civil rights lawsuit against Cowlitz County and City of Longview law enforcement for their program of harassment, assault, and intimidation of those involved in the labor dispute with EGT, the ongoing criminal prosecution of union officers, members, and supporters, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charges filed against the ILWU by EGT and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Settlement of NLRB charges

During the labor dispute in Longview, both EGT and PMA filed numerous unfair labor practice charges against the ILWU. The NLRB investigated these charges and issued a complaint against the ILWU in which it consolidated EGT and PMA’s charges into one action. Once the NLRB issued its complaint, the NLRB became the representative for the charging parties. This meant that any settlement of the NLRB charges was now up to the NLRB and not the charging parties themselves and that any “amnesty” agreement between the ILWU and EGT would have no power to resolve the remaining NLRB charges.

In March, the ILWU finally reached a settlement agreement with the NLRB encompassing both EGT and PMA’s charges. The settlement agreement included a non-admission clause clearly stating that the ILWU, by entering a settlement agreement with the NLRB, did not admit having violated any provision of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In addition to the settlement agreement, the ILWU signed a notice in which it agreed not to take certain action at the EGT facility.

All of the provisions of the notice are expressly limited to the past dispute with EGT, meaning that no one can use the notice to restrain union conduct in other future disputes. While EGT agreed to and was supportive of the ILWU’s resolution with the NLRB, PMA objected to the settlement, arguing that the language of the notice was too narrow because it did not encompass a promise to abstain from future violations of the NLRA outside of the EGT context. While the ILWU prepared to go to trial and fight the NLRB on PMA’s bogus charges, the NLRB decided, over PMA’s objections, to approve the settlement agreement and the notice. PMA did not appeal the NLRB’s decision, and the ILWU is in the final stages of compliance with the settlement agreement, which involves the posting and mailing of the signed notice.

The ongoing prosecution of union officers, members, and supporters

 More than 100 cases have been filed against ILWU officers, members, and supporters in what appears to be a pattern of targeted incrimination against longshore workers and their supporters for engaging in public protest and free speech demonstrations related to the EGT labor dispute. Members of ILWU Local 21 and their supporters protested at railroad tracks and around EGT’s facility, which is located on public port property, from July 2011 through September 2011. During that time, local law enforcement arrested demonstrators on a range of charges, including disorderly conduct, trespass, train blocking, and assault.

Many individuals facing criminal charges have been cleared of all wrong doing. Others have been forced to take plea deals on misdemeanor charges to avoid the risk of facing trumped up felony charges.

In December 2011, ILWU Local 21 member Shelly Porter received a not guilty verdict after a jury deliberated for 20 minutes. Porter was accused of assault for an incident that took place on July 22, 2011. Porter was on public port property when EGT’s General Manager, Gerry Gibson, shoved a cell phone in her face. Porter raised her hand in a sweeping motion to get the phone away from her face and made contact with Gibson. Gibson alleged that Porter had assaulted him, and Cowlitz County prosecutors pursued charges against Porter. The jury determined that Gibson was the aggressor and that Porter was justified in using force to defend herself.

That same month, ILWU Local 21 member Kelly Palmer was found not guilty of disorderly conduct by a jury after the jury deliberated for 12 minutes. Palmer was among individuals picketing at the entry gate of EGT’s facility on July 25, 2011. The president of an out-of-state security firm hired by EGT pulled alongside the picketers and took pictures with his cell phone.

At no time did he attempt to turn and drive through the company gate so the picketers continued their peaceful demonstration. The driver then accused Palmer of intentionally blocking his car, and, despite the evidence to the contrary, Cowlitz County prosecutors pursued charges against Palmer.

Following the trial and not guilty verdict, Palmer stated, “I’m relieved. I’ve never been arrested in my life. I couldn’t believe I was being arrested when I didn’t do anything wrong.” Shortly after the Porter and Palmer not guilty verdicts, Cowlitz County prosecutors dismissed a number of misdemeanor charges against individuals for demonstrations against EGT that took place on July 25, 2011 and September 7, 2011.

In February 2012, a jury found Erica Ranee Farland, Cara Marie Lindemann, Kahne Bell Witham, and Jennifer Lynn Wood, four ILWU supporters, not guilty of misdemeanor trespass and train blocking. Police had arrested Farland, Lindemann, Witham, and Wood for peacefully sitting on railroad tracks on port property on September 21, 2011. Jack Peterson, the attorney for the four women acquitted stated, “The clear message the jury sent to the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office is that, when citizens assert their constitutional rights, it does not mean they are criminals.” A month later, in March, another five supporters who took part in the September 21 demonstration were given 10 hours of community service and charged a small fine in exchange for a stay of proceedings and a dismissal of all charges.

In April 2012, a Cowlitz County jury acquitted Bill Roberts, the father-in-law of an ILWU Local 21 officer, who was facing misdemeanor trespass and train blocking charges associated with events that took place on September 7, 2011. In court, Cowlitz County prosecutors tried to paint the picture that the entire ILWU organization was engaged in a criminal conspiracy to block trains and that criminal intent should be imputed to all those taking part in the protest. The jury acquitted Roberts because there was no evidence to convict him of criminal wrongdoing.

In addition to jury acquittals, a handful of individuals facing the Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney’s threat of trumped-up felony charges have plead guilty to misdemeanors. Dan Coffman, President of ILWU Local 21, plead guilty to three simple misdemeanors because of the threat by the Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney that felony charges stemming from the peaceful demonstration at EGT’s facility on July 11, 2011 would be filed otherwise. Several other union officers and members facing similar threats took the same course in order to avoid the strain of trial and the possibility of felony convictions, which result in long prison sentences and heavy fines.

The ILWU views the use of the threat of trumped-up felony charges to coerce plea deals on simple misdemeanor charges as a form of extortion and just another tool in the war chest of a local law enforcement that has engaged in a pattern of intimidation, harassment, and the use of excessive force in defense of big business instead of the public interest.

The ILWU’s Civil Rights lawsuit

 In September 2012, the ILWU filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Longview, Cowlitz County, and their top officials challenging law enforcement’s conduct. Most recently, the United States District Court judge presiding over the civil rights lawsuit denied Cowlitz County and Sheriff Mark Nelson’s request that the court dismiss the case. The judge ruled that “the Union has adequately pled its causes of action against Mr. Nelson” and the facts described in the union’s complaint “are sufficient to state a claims for municipal liability” against Cowlitz County. In the same order, the judge granted the ILWU’s request to add Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney Susan Baur and Deputy County Sherriff Charles Rosenzweig as defendants to the case.

Appeal of contempt fines

In March 2012, the ILWU filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenging over $300,000 in contempt awards ordered by a United Stated States District Court during the EGT dispute. The appeals process could take up to two years.

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