The Dispute

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (“ILWU”) had a long established collective bargaining relationship with grain exporter Marubeni-Columbia Grain, Inc. (“CGI”), which covered CGI’s employees classified as grain handlers. The last collective bargaining agreement expired in September 2012, and the parties were not able to reach a new agreement. The ILWU commenced picketing CGI’s grain elevator facilities on the Snake River and at the Port of Wilma in Washington State.

CGI (the “primary employer”) had contracted with Tidewater Barge Lines, Inc. (“Tidewater”) to move CGI’s grain barges from its grain elevators to Tidewater’s “spud barges” on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. From its spud barges, Tidewater transported the grain to the Port of Portland. From there, CGI employees unloaded the grain and transported it to ocean-going ships for export.

The ILWU began water-borne picketing against Tidewater’s spud and transport barges carrying CGI’s grain. The ILWU pickets broadcasted bullhorn announcements to the Tidewater employees, asking them to cease transporting CGI’s grain.

The NLRB Charge and Injunction Petition

Tidewater filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) alleging that the picketing against its spud and transport barges constituted secondary boycott. Section 8(b)(4)(i)(B) of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) prohibits unions from threatening or coercing employees of a neutral employer, with an objective of forcing it to cease doing business with the employer that has a primary dispute with the unions. Picketing is considered coercive conduct.

The NLRB sought an injunction of the ILWU’s picketing against Tidewater’s operations, in the U.S. District Court in Oregon.

The Union’s Defense

The ILWU defended against the injunction request, arguing that Tidewater’s work was so related to CGI’s work as to be considered “primary work,” thereby privileging the picketing against Tidewater. Under the “Related Work” doctrine, unions are privileged to picket employers doing business with the “primary employer” if it can be shown: 1) that the site of the work is “proximate” to the primary employers’ premises; and 2) that the services being provided to the primary employer are “essential” to the primary employers’ regular operations.

The Court’s Decision

The Federal District Court in Oregon rejected the union’s defense[1]. The court held that the union had to show more than that Tidewater’s work was essential to CGI’s operations. The union also had to show a nexus to CGI’s premises and its daily operations. Since Tidewater’s spud and transport barges were miles away from CGI’s grain elevator facilities, Tidewater’s transport services for CGI did not fall within the “Related Work” doctrine. The ILWU was not privileged to picket Tidewater’s barges. The picketing constituted coercion directed toward employees of a neutral employer with an object of forcing Tidewater to cease doing business with CGI. Such secondary boycott violated the NLRA and the injunction requested by the NLRB was “just and proper.”