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Secretary of Labor visits Charleston Port amid union workers dispute

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 2:33 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 7:51 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited the Port of Charleston on Wednesday with the intention of discussing supply chain disruption issues and the Biden-Harris administration’s support for workers and employers.

“We’re also working to make sure our supply chains continue to move in our country,” Walsh said. “But most importantly as we do that, we need to make we respect the workers who’s doing the work.”

Members of the ILA, International Longshoremen’s Association, say their concern is with employment at the Hugh Leatherman Terminal.

The Hugh Leatherman Terminal is operating at about 35%, and President of the ILA in Charleston Kenneth Riley said that they want to fill these jobs to bring this port up to its full potential.

But right now, that’s not happening.

“Even though you see all these trucks behind me coming in and out,” Riley said. “My folks are sitting at home with no pay or anything.”

It’s a convoluted dispute between the State Ports Authority, the ILA, and the federal government.

Based on a Master Contract between the ILA and the United States Maritime Alliance, ILA members believe many of the new jobs at the Leatherman terminal should be filled by union workers. But instead, the positions are either empty or being filled by State Port Authority employees.

Union workers believe this is not only illegal but putting them at a disadvantage for both jobs and pay, and they are calling on the Biden administration to help.

Walsh said he didn’t want to comment on the process directly, but says he stands with the union workers in Charleston.

“I hope that things get worked out because it’s important that we continue moving goods and products into our country,” Walsh said. “These workers that work here, work hard. They’ve been here for probably generations, a lot of workers. And I think it’s important that we have a lot more collaboration.”

South Carolina Ports released the following statement:

The hybrid port operating model that has been employed since the start of containerization in South Atlantic ports such as Charleston has consistently set the standard for competitiveness in the US port industry and fostered above market growth. This growth has been good for the entire maritime community, SCPA work force, ILA, truckers, etc. through increases in man hours and overall work. The Southeast port business will continue to grow as long as capacity exists to facilitate that growth. The Hugh Leatherman Terminal represents both an intelligent and a timely capacity investment just as it is needed in the industry. At a time when the supply chain is seeing unprecedent cargo volumes, the additional capacity at the Hugh Leatherman Terminal is crucial to keeping the supply chain fluid. It is important that this terminal is operated at its full capacity now so the South Carolina Ports Authority can take full advantage of the many growth opportunities at hand. Operating at less than full capacity costs the local maritime work force opportunities to work at extremely good wages and is counterproductive. The extension of the hybrid operating model to that terminal assures its competitiveness for years to come. We are optimistic that the NLRB will uphold the ruling of its Administrative Law Judge in this important matter, for the benefit of all workers in the South Carolina maritime industry.” –- South Carolina Ports

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