Dockworker Hiring Suit Rejected by High Court


The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear claims by a group of local dockworkers that the Los Angeles-Long Beach longshoremen's union engaged in favoritism and nepotism to fill 387 jobs sought by 22,250 applicants in 1984.

The court's decision, made without comment Tuesday, lets stand lower court rulings on behalf of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Locals 13 and 63, and Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shippers and other waterfront employers in the ports.

Last May, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to uphold a decision by a federal District Court in Los Angeles that dismissed a lawsuit by 128 part-time dockworkers who sought full-time status. The court ruled that the workers had failed to exhaust their remedies within the union by not filing timely grievances. Most of the grievances came months after a 10-day deadline set by the union.

Accusations of favoritism and nepotism against the union span decades and have led to court rulings that ILWU's local hiring practices must be opened. Those rulings include a decision, in the late 1960s, that the union could no longer require that job applicants be sponsored by union members. In the 1980s, federal courts also ruled that the union must open the lucrative dockworker jobs to more women.

In the case unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court, 128 part-time dockworkers charged in 1985 that they were denied full-time positions by an ILWU selection process that discriminated in favor of friends and relatives of union members.

That selection process began on Sept. 26, 1984, when an estimated 22,250 people flocked to a San Pedro drive-in to apply for a limited number of jobs with ILWU's Local 13, representing about 2,800 longshoremen, and Local 63, representing about 600 cargo clerks.

The process ended eight months later when a selection committee registered 387 applicants for full-time jobs as longshoremen and clerks.

In their lawsuit, the 128 unsuccessful applicants charged that selections were often made on the basis of favoritism, nepotism, arbitrary scoring and coaching of applicants. Further, they alleged that complaints about the process were sent to a grievance committee that included a half-dozen union members who had more than 20 family members selected in the 1984 process.

Union officials dismissed the allegations as unsubstantiated and fought the case in court, saying that most of the plaintiffs filed grievances five months after the union's 10-day deadline for such appeals.

The plaintiffs' "central contention, that the grievance procedures were inadequate, biased or futile, is little more than a theoretical discussion about possible inadequacies of a process petitioners never used to test these allegations," attorneys for the union and Pacific Maritime Assn. said in their brief.

Attorneys and representatives of both sides in the case did not return repeated phone calls Thursday.

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