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Tuesday, June 9, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dockworkers Settle Bias Suit -- 15 From Area To Get $800,000

Seattle Times Business Reporter

Thirteen African-American and two Hispanic dockworkers in Seattle and Tacoma ended their civil-rights trial against their union and shipping companies yesterday, agreeing to an $800,000 settlement.

While most of the plaintiffs and defendants said they were satisfied with the agreement, one of the key defendants was not.

"We're unhappy with the settlement," said Lee Braach, president of Tacoma Longshore Local 23. "We wanted our day in court. Certainly, we would have refuted the testimony of the plaintiffs."

The trial had lasted eight days, with the plaintiffs offering emotional testimony before a jury. But before the defense could present its side of the story, U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess ordered the two groups back into mediation.

The groups reached a settlement that also calls for all parties to meet in the next 30 days to finalize union membership issues, improvements in job assignments and on-the-job training opportunities, grievance procedures and sensitivity training.

However, the settlement does not call for quotas or other specific goals related to the training or promotion of minority employees working at the two ports.

"It was probably the best we could get the way things were going," said Rodney Rhymes, one of the plaintiffs and a Tacoma dockworker. "I think this lawsuit showed that there were some people within this union who are unafraid and willing to stand up for what they believe in. Hopefully, this is a new beginning."

The dockworkers sued the International Longshore and Warehouse union, three of its Puget Sound locals, and Pacific Maritime Association, which represents ships and stevedoring companies that move freight in and out of West Coast ports.

The workers claimed they had been passed over for job assignments, subjected to racial slurs and jokes, physically assaulted and, after the suit was filed 18 months ago, victimized by retaliatory acts.

The dockworkers contended their advancement up the seniority ladder was unfairly slowed by racist practices in the dispatch hall and in training opportunities.

Braach said those allegations are untrue, but the international union and PMA officials pushed for a settlement, fearing "the potential liability would be intimidating."

Braach said his local stands by its record of improving the racial situation on the Tacoma waterfront. He said Local 23 was the first longshore local to have diversity training for officers.

And the local union improved its dispatch and training system to accommodate minority concerns.

PMA ready to move on

But Craig Johnson, area manager for the PMA, said the shipping companies hope to move forward. "I think it's a positive move," he said. "We're anxious to get going."

The settlement is among eight civil-rights complaints filed against three longshore locals and the PMA that allege sex, race and age discrimination in Tacoma and Seattle.

Last July, the unions and the PMA settled a class-action suit for $3.3 million that involved 150 female dockworkers who worked at the Port of Tacoma. Earlier, in another case, a jury unanimously agreed that Longshoremen's Local 98 had denied Seattle dockworker Kristie Hagen promotion to the foremen's union because of her gender. The jury awarded her $130,000 in back pay and $100,000 in punitive damages.

Two other suits have been settled, two have been dismissed and one is still pending.

Bradley Marshall, the plaintiffs' attorney, said the settlement was prompted by "very compelling and very emotional" testimony by black and Hispanic dockworkers, two white female dockworkers, plus a number of union officials and PMA representatives.

"Some of the whites who testified did so at great personal risk," Marshall said, "and the plaintiffs who testified really exposed their hearts and minds. Some broke down on the stand. It was very emotional."

Stanley Holmes' phone message number is 206-464-2732. His e-mail address is: sholmes@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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