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Right-to-work group joins fight over workers at South Carolina container port

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(The Center Square) — A right-to-work group filed an amicus brief in a case challenging a ruling that only union employees can operate the cranes at the Port of Charleston’s Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal.

Since it opened in March 2021, the Port of Charleston has used nonunion employees at the $1 billion Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston. However, the International Longshoremen Association sued the United States Maritime Alliance, Hapag-Lloyd and Orient Overseas Container Line for breaching a contract stipulating that only union employees can operate cranes at ports.

In December, the National Labor Relations Board reversed an administrative law judge’s ruling that the ILA’s “secondary boycott” of the Leatherman Terminal barring carriers from using it until union members handle all container work at the port was unlawful. The board ruled that the Leatherman Terminal must use the union employees even though South Carolina is a “right-to-work” state.

In July, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold the NLRB decision. The South Carolina Ports Authority appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court in September.

“SC Ports’ Leatherman Terminal is a significant supply chain asset for all port-dependent businesses in South Carolina and beyond,” SC Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin said in a statement to The Center Square. “The terminal has been sitting mostly unused for two years after the union sued our ocean carrier customers to dissuade them from using the terminal. Ocean carriers transport goods for U.S. importers and exporters, who benefit from our operational excellence. The union’s intent is to displace our operators with union members.

“We have filed a request to the U.S. Supreme Court asking them to hear our appeal of the Fourth Circuit’s majority opinion regarding jobs at Leatherman Terminal. This is of national importance as it will impact how all operating ports are run,” Melvin added. “SC Ports has always operated under a hybrid model, with SC Ports teammates and ILA members working side-by-side to provide reliable, efficient port service. Our longstanding hybrid operating model works well, and we want to maintain it for the benefit of our customers, maritime community and state.”

In a statement, National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said the “Supreme Court must reverse the Biden NLRB’s erroneous ruling letting this union gambit move forward, bearing in mind that the real victims here are the nonunion port workers whose jobs ILA officials want to seize.”

Spokespeople for the International Longshoremen Association and Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, did not respond to requests for comment. The case is South Carolina Ports Authority v. National Labor Relations Board.

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