Union wins labor board ruling in Charleston port dispute

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Only union members may work heavy-lift equipment at a new shipping terminal in one of the nation’s largest maritime centers after the National Labor Relations Board panel ruled against the Port of Charleston in South Carolina.

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.

But the State Ports Authority said it will appeal, The Post and Courier reported Thursday, which could prolong the fight for years and bring the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

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%.

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