The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) representing U.S. dockworkers on the West Coast filed for bankruptcy protection last week amid a pending lawsuit over unfair work slowdowns and stoppages.
The ILWU, which represents 22,000 dock and warehouse workers at ports along the West Coast from San Diego to Washington, including the nation’s busiest container port at Los Angeles and Long Beach, is in the midst of litigation with the Oregon branch of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) over illegal work stoppages and slowdowns amid labor disputes.
A federal court found in 2019 that the ILWU had engaged in illegal labor practices from 2013 to 2017 through work slowdowns and stoppages, holding the union liable for $93.6 million in damages against ICTSI Oregon, which operated a shipping terminal at the Port of Portland during that period.
An Oregon judge later reduced the amount of damages to $19.1 million, which ICTSI rejected and prompted a new trial to be scheduled as it seeks damages in a range of $48 million to $142 million. The ILWU has argued that damages shouldn’t exceed $3.9 million and says it lacks funds to cover legal expenses that would ensue with the new trial.
“While we have attempted numerous times to resolve the decade-long litigation with ICTSI Oregon, Inc., at this point, the union can no longer afford to defend against ICTSI’s scorched-earth litigation tactic,” ILWU President Willie Adams said in a press release.
“We intend to use the [C]hapter 11 process to implement a plan that will bring this matter to resolution and ensure that our Union continues to do its important work for our members and the community,” Adams added. “The Officers are confident that we are taking the right step to put our organization on the best path forward – and we are optimistic for all that is ahead.”
In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, the ILWU listed assets of more than $11 million with about $9.5 million in cash on hand. The bankruptcy process gives the filing entity the opportunity to restructure and resolve outstanding debts with creditors.
ICTSI, which is based in the Philippines and is the parent company of ICTSI Oregon, told Reuters in a statement that the ILWU’s bankruptcy filing was the union’s “latest maneuver to avoid accountability.”
This August, the ILWU ratified a new six-year contract for U.S. dockworkers that boosted pay and benefits for 22,000 employees at 29 ports along the West Coast.
Negotiations over the new contract began in 2022, and port terminal operators accused ILWU members of withholding labor and slowing down operations, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Reuters contributed to this report.