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Longshoremen say it’s not a threat, but Seattle tunnel project may force work stoppage at port

The Longshoremen’s Union says it isn’t a threat, but it’s warning the Port of Seattle that container operations at Terminal 46 could be impacted by the Seattle Tunnel Project and the ongoing dispute with work on the dig.

ILWU Local 19 President Cameron Williams says dust and debris from dirt removal at the tunnel site forced union workers to shut down container operations briefly last week.

“For whatever reason there was a plume of dust that was created either by the belt offloading some very fine concrete material or dust coming out of the pit from whatever was taking place in the pit.”

The letter sent by the union to the Port of Seattle could be interpreted as a somewhat veiled threat that union workers might stop operations at the sign of any dust, just to make a point about the ongoing dispute the union is having with tunnel project managers.

But Williams says this is not a threat. It’s about health and safety, “It was like a dust storm that blew a significant cloud across the terminal which halted operations. No one could see what they were doing to perform their necessary operations as far as loading cargo to the vessel.”

The union is currently feuding with Seattle Tunnel Partners over four jobs on the dirt removal from the tunnel site. The union says the project managers signed an agreement to give them the jobs but then failed to follow through. Seattle Tunnel Partners says they were forced to sign that deal under duress.

The union has been picketing the site for over a week.

The National Labor Relations Board is considering several complaints against the ILWU, filed by other unions, which is highly unusual.

Williams says it is what it is. “The objective for the ILWU was to preserve traditional longshore work. It’s unorthodox for other unions to file those claims and charges against the unions – but that’s the case in this matter.”

The longshoremen are asking the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Department of Transportation to get involved now to force the Seattle Tunnel Partners to hire its employees.

But for now, the Port’s Jason Kelly says it’s staying out of this dispute. “This is an issue between the Seattle Tunnel partners and the labor on the project. This is an issue we’re watching closely, but ultimately it’s Seattle Tunnel Partners and WSDOT that need to resolve the situation.”

Digging on the tunnel could be forced to stop within a few weeks if this labor dispute continues. Workers are running out of room on Terminal 46 to put the dirt.

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