A federal judge fined a Longshore union $250,000 on Friday for its tactics in a Longview labor dispute, and he warned that individual protesters could face their own penalties for future violations of his orders.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton has already held the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in contempt for blocking a train and storming a grain terminal earlier this month. Authorities have said the protesters overpowered security guards, damaged railroad cars and dumped grain.
"What's going on out there is awful," Leighton said. "We have to do something about it, and I'm going to do something."
The National Labor Relations Board had asked the court to fine the union more than $290,000 to cover the damages and expenses, such as overtime for law enforcement agencies. Leighton said he rounded down to be cautious and ordered additional penalties for future violations, including $25,000 for the union, $5,000 for union officers and $2,500 for other individuals.
The union plans to appeal the decision, attorney Robert Remar said after the hearing. He had argued that the union has the right to assess whether the proposed damages and expenses were proper, saying that he believes some of them were excessive and inflated.
"What the court engaged in here is back-of-the-napkin guestimates," ILWU coast committeeman Leal Sundet said in a statement. "There was no attempt to distinguish events arguably connected with what the union is accused of doing on the 7th and 8th of September 2011 and those events that are unrelated to any alleged union conduct."
Repeatedly facing arrest, the protesters in Longview have viewed themselves as being the latest front in the struggle for American jobs and benefits during the economic downturn. The dispute has continued to escalate, with protesters resorting to aggressive tactics that have been a rarity in recent labor disputes around the country.
Union protesters believe they have the right to work at a new grain terminal at the Port of Longview that is currently being staffed by workers from a different union, Oregon-based Operating Engineers Local 701.
Leighton began to consider Friday afternoon whether EGT Development's lease agreement with the port compels the company to use ILWU workers. Exhibits to the lease agreement make mention of a longstanding working agreement between the port and the ILWU, and the port says that reference obligates EGT to use the union's workers. But EGT believes the mention of the working agreement does not mean it is fully incorporated into the pact, and the company says it has always insisted it couldn't agree to that directive.
The judge said it appeared that the two sides produced vague language in the document to get a deal done and sort out the legal issues later.
"You have confounded me and probably a lot of people with your efforts to reach this agreement," Leighton said. "We'll parse it out and see what to make of it."
Leighton said he plans to make a ruling on that issue in about a week.
Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP.