The American Civil Liberties Union claims in a complaint filed Thursday that the West Coast dockworkers union and the region’s main port employers group discriminate against pregnant longshore workers at 29 Pacific Coast seaports.
In a class-action filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, dockworker Tracy Plummer—a nonunion member in a pool of “casual” workers who must accrue work hours to be eligible for higher pay and promotion into the International Longshore and Warehouse Union—said she wasn’t credited for hours that she missed when she took parental leave in 2015. The filing says workers are credited for lost hours when they are absent for a variety of other reasons, but not when they are pregnant.
The ILWU counts approximately 42,000 members, but thousands more are on standby as a so-called casual labor force, called in when needed by the Pacific Maritime Association, which oversees labor relations at the ports on behalf of cargo terminal managers. There are about 800 women in the casual longshore workforce at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., where Ms. Plummer is based.
In the complaint, Ms. Plummer wrote that she was a casual worker in Southern California for eight years before she got pregnant in 2014, and then worked only the minimum hours needed to maintain her standing in the labor pool while she was pregnant. She returned to work full-time in mid-2016. Ms. Plummer estimates she lost about 1,500 work hours during that time, leaving her behind in the credits needed to gain the union membership that brings better pay and greater job security.
ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent Bokaie said in an emailed statement that union has “no policy or practice of granting hours credit for absences of any kind, except for military veterans as required by federal law.” Ms. Bokaie added, “The ILWU and our employers have a liberal policy of allowing longshore workers abundant leave as needed for pregnancy.”
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The ACLU says ILWU and the employer group grant hours to other workers who take time off for job-related illness, injury, disability and military service. To not grant the same credit for pregnancy and parental leave amounts to discrimination, they said, under the 40-year-old Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The law “requires employers and unions to give pregnant workers the same opportunities as those provided to nonpregnant employees,” David Lopez of Outten & Golden LLP said in a statement. The Outten & Golden firm filed the charges together with ACLU and Los Angeles-based attorney Brenda Feigen.
The PMA and ILWU faced a sex discrimination case in the early 1980s, when 500 women dockworkers alleged systematic exclusion from the union, which at the time counted only seven women as members. As a result of a settlement in 1983, as many as 1,000 women joined the ILWU membership.