Puerto Rico District Court

Dockworkers protest deemed trespassing for lack of labor relationship with employer

Dockworkers protest deemed trespassing for lack of labor relationship with employerDownload the opinion: Schnitzer Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Union Trabajadores de Muelles de Ponce, ILA Local 1903 et al

Schnitzer Puerto Rico, Inc. (“Schnitzer”) sued a labor union composed of dockworkers from the ports in Ponce for trespassing and damages. Schnitzer claims stevedores — dockworkers who load and unload ships as well as perform other jobs required at seaport— interrupted operations during a protest strike in the plaintiff’s lot. The suit originated in the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance, where Schnitzer sued for damages and injunctive relief under the laws of Puerto Rico.

The defendants, Local 1903, moved the case to federal court arguing the plaintiff’s complaint is in fact an unfair labor practice in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Local 1903 workers contend they were picketing with the objective of forcing their employer to recognize and bargain with labor organizations as representatives. Local 1903 workers argue that the federal court must decide whether Schnitzer has the obligation to recognize and bargain with the union.

Schnitzer, however, contends the Local 1903 picketers were not their employees and that, in fact, none of their employees belong to the union. The court agreed with the plaintiffs and determined that there was no labor relationship between Local 1903 and Schnitzer. For these reasons, Local 1903’s protest actions are not considered “protected actions” under the NLRA. In the words of the District Court decision “the July 28th picket was of trespassory nature, hence, outside the scope of the NLRA”.

The court remanded the case back to the Puerto Rico Courts, finding that the issue at hand does not concern the National Labor Relations Board. Schnitzer is therefore not under any obligation to bargain with Local 1903 because there is no labor relationship between them.

The court took the time to explain that, regardless of its decision concerning this issue, an unfair labor practices claim does not necessarily preclude any action under state law. In any case, Schnitzer’s trespass claims would be decided in the local courts, and the union’s unfair labor practices claim could be heard at the NLRB at the same time.

Summary: Cristian González