Union sues shipping line over Port of Charleston's new terminal

The union that represents Port of Charleston dockworkers is suing a global shipping line for allegedly violating its contract with organized labor by using the newly opened Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston. The International Longshoremen’s Association is seeking £200 million in damages from Hapag-Lloyd, according to the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, where the union and German company have headquarters operations. The legal action also names the U.S.

Maritime Alliance, a consortium of shipping lines, as a defendant. The case stems from the local ILA chapter’s battle with the State Ports Authority over whether union members will operate cranes and other cargo-loading equipment at the new Cooper River shipping terminal. Non-union SPA employees currently operate that equipment while members of ILA No.

1422 help move cargo.

Charleston port's Leatherman Terminal opens after nearly 20 years in the making

A 2013 amendment to the union’s contract with shipping lines calls for ILA members to operate the cranes at any new terminal that opens on the East or Gulf coasts. While the Leatherman Terminal opened in March, SPA officials say it isn’t new because it was permitted in 2007. The ILA alleged in its complaint that Hapag-Lloyd knew the terminal was contractually off-limits, but sent its Yorktown Express container ship to the site April 9.

It was the first vessel to visit the terminal named for state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, one of the port’s biggest legislative supporters. “The Hapag-Lloyd ship intentionally went to Leatherman Terminal even though it knew that non-bargaining-unit employees who were not covered by the … contract would be hired to unload its containers and to handle its containers on the terminal,” the lawsuit alleged.

The SPA and Hapag-Lloyd declined to comment.

Sign up for our new business newsletter

We’re starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us – it’s free.

Charleston ports agency wins ruling in union dispute, Leatherman Terminal to open in weeks

The union said it suffered “massive damages,” and its members “lost out on work opportunities, suffering lost wages and lost benefits, thereby also depriving the ILA of dues income.” The ILA is also seeking punitive damages, with any proceeds from the legal action to go toward the union’s welfare and pension funds.

A handful of other shipping lines — including COSCO, CMA CGM and OOCL — are scheduled to send vessels to the Leatherman Terminal in the coming weeks. An ILA spokesman did not respond to a question about whether the union also planned to sue those carriers.

N. Charleston's Leatherman Terminal now a working facility with Yorktown Express visit

The legal action comes on the heels of a similar employment dispute that was filed in January with the National Labor Relations Board.

In that case, the SPA alleges the union’s contract amounts to an illegal third-party boycott. A regional director with the federal labor board sent the case to an administrative law judge, who will hear the matter on May 4. In the meantime, the NLRB has issued an injunction allowing the Leatherman Terminal to operate with its combination of union and non-union worker pending the outcome of the case.

The £2 billion Leatherman Terminal, located on the former Navy base, will double the Port of Charleston’s capacity by the time it is fully completed in the mid-2030s.

It is the first terminal to open since the TraPac Terminal in Jacksonville, Fla., in January 2009.