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Concerns mount over ongoing union dispute at Toledo Port

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    Officials are concerned a labor dispute at the Port of Toledo could disrupt the expected arrival of machinery for a $700 million iron-concentration plant now under construction near the port.

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    A ship docked at a slip rented from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. The port authority has been told it cannot intervene in the dispute between Midwest Terminals and the labor union.

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The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has no power to intervene in a labor dispute between the stevedore company that operates one of its docks and a labor union, lawyers retained by a member of the port’s board of directors have advised.

But Basil W. Mangano, a local representative of the Cleveland-based Mangano Law Offices, advised the port board in a letter dated Wednesday that it “might consider suggesting to both parties that they resolve their private dispute by engaging the services of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

“In my 20 years’ experience as a union-side labor attorney, I have found the agency to be very helpful in resolving private disputes between my clients and employers,” Mr. Mangano wrote.

RELATED CONTENT: Union dispute leaves some freighters stuck at port

And a quick resolution to the labor dispute — which has spilled over to refusals by navigational pilots working on ocean-going ships to pass the dock workers’ picket boat — is something port officials would like to see before it disrupts the expected arrival of machinery for a $700 million iron-concentration plant now under construction near the port.

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Sean Enright, business manager for the Northwest Ohio Building Trades council of unions, said he’s worried that Local 1982, International Longshoremen’s Association, which has been in a long-running dispute with Midwest Terminals of Toledo International, will spread its pickets to the former Interlake Dock where those iron plant machinery shipments are slated for handling.

Shipments of heavy equipment for expansion of the Oregon Clean Energy Center a few miles away also could be affected, Mr. Enright said.

“We reached out to the ILA to put their members to work on those ships coming in,” Mr. Enright said Thursday. “But after talking to us for a while, they said ‘no’ … so they may target our ships.”

Paul Toth, port authority president and chief executive, said 13 or 14 shipments of heavy machinery are scheduled later this year for the iron plant, plus several more next year. “If that equipment doesn’t come in, everything stops on that project,” he said.

The machinery cargoes could be transferred somewhere else from foreign ships to domestic barges, but that would be extremely expensive, Mr. Enright said.

But William Yockey, an ILA trustee managing Local 1982, said the union has not closed the door to efforts to defuse the situation. He said he is attempting now to structure an agreement to insure that upcoming work at the Interlake Dock goes unimpeded.

“As of right now, we’re in talks with people in [Local] 1982 to do the longshoring work at that dock. We don’t have a dispute at that dock,” Mr. Yockey said. “We’re gong to do everything we can to work something out with the building trades. We have a dispute with Midwest Terminals only.”

Mr. Yockey added that navigational pilots, some of which the ILA represents through its International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots union affiliate, are not taking sides in the labor dispute despite how it may look.

“I used to be a pilot, so I know. They are choosing to remain neutral,” he said. “They don’t get involved because they know the next day they have to work with everybody.”

A Cleveland-Cliffs spokesman did not respond to a call seeking comment.

The stevedore, Midwest Terminals, has been embroiled for years in a dispute with Local 1982 various issues at the general-cargo docks, including work assignments and whether Midwest is obligated to participate in a union-sponsored health-and-welfare plan.

More recently, Midwest stopped deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks after more than half of them submitted letters requesting Local 1982’s decertification — letters the ILA contends were signed under duress.

In late April and early May, pilots required by federal law to provide navigational guidance to ship captains from overseas began refusing to work when those foreign ships encountered ILA pickets. The fear of ships incurring delays similar to one that was stuck in the Toledo port for 10 days effectively has shut down overseas shipments to the Midwest dock.

Mr. Yockey said after hearing Mr. Mangano’s letter read aloud at the meeting that it contained “exactly what I expected.”

Historically, Local 1982’s membership has been overwhelmingly African-American, while other union locals at the port — including a separate ILA local — have been predominantly white. Mr. Yockey has argued repeatedly that Midwest’s inability to negotiate a contract with Local 1982, while having reached agreements with other unions, supports the claim of racial animus.

The National Labor Relations Board, whose findings in favor of the union regarding Midwest’s hiring practices are now being appealed by the stevedore, is not charged with identifying instances of racial discrimination, Mr. Yockey said.

“If you put the faces on the cases, you can see the black and white,” he said. “...We may have to take this to the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] to get a discrimination ruling.”

But Mr. Mangano’s letter noted that the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, to which Local 1982 previously submitted discrimination complaints, “has not found probable cause with respect to any charges filed by employees of Midwest Terminals.”

“To the best of our knowledge,” all race-discrimination claims against Midwest have been dismissed, Jim Yates, an attorney from Eastman & Smith, also told the port directors in person Thursday.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s only “probable cause” findings involving the ILA local at the Midwest-operated dock, he said, are directed at the union’s own conduct toward its members.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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