Union wins labor board ruling in Charleston port dispute, SC ports to appeal

The South Carolina Ports Authority plans to appeal a labor board ruling in a dispute involving heavy-lift equipment, its president says.
Published: Dec. 23, 2022 at 6:42 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2022 at 12:22 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - The South Carolina Ports Authority plans to appeal a labor board ruling in a dispute involving heavy-lift equipment, its president says.

The National Labor Relations Board panel ruled against the Port of Charleston on Dec. 16, deciding that only union members may work that equipment at a new shipping terminal in one of the nation’s largest maritime centers.

The Dec. 16 order brings an end to the “hybrid” union-non-union employment model long implemented by the State Ports Authority at the Leatherman Terminal, which opened its $1 billion first phase in March 2021.

SC Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin released this statement on the ruling:

SC Ports Authority is disappointed in the split ruling of the NLRB, which overturned the September 2021 ruling by the administrative law judge that was in favor of SC Ports Authority. We are still assessing the reasoning of the Board panel’s opinion, but we intend to appeal to the federal court of appeals in line with the reasoning of the Board’s dissenting opinion and the underlying initial ruling, which we believe is more consistent with applicable law and the facts of the case. We therefore remain confident in a favorable ruling from the courts.

Regardless of the current decision, SC Ports remains hopeful that we can work with the ILA to achieve a solution that will allow for full utilization of the Leatherman Terminal and preservation of the growth trajectory our port has experienced that creates more jobs for both SC Ports employees and ILA members.

State officials have said their working model benefits all employees. But the dockworkers’ union has claimed a contract with the United States Maritime Alliance requires that only members of the International Longshoremen’s Association may operate the cranes at newly constructed terminals. State Ports Authority employees had been carrying out such work.

The decision comes without intervention from President Joe Biden. Union officials had said they would “seek the support of the Biden administration” in November 2021 after a judge ruled against them. But leaders reversed course this summer when the union asked Biden to stay out of the dispute and avoid an “overreach” of presidential power.

South Carolina is a “right-to-work” state, meaning workers can’t be compelled to join unions, even if the organizations represent them. According to data released earlier this year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina had the lowest union membership rate, at 1.7%.