New ACLU Charges Allege Pregnancy Discrimination Against Dockworkers at West Coast Ports

Policies Block Women from Higher Wages and Union Membership

March 29, 2018 10:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the law firm of Outten & Golden LLP, and Los Angeles attorney Brenda Feigen filed pregnancy discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today on behalf of female longshore workers across ports on the west coast.

The charges against the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents west coast shipping and terminal companies, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) challenge unequal policies allowing workers who are absent to accrue the work hours necessary for promotion to higher wage brackets and union membership. Those who miss time due to on-the-job injuries or military service are awarded such time, but women absent due to pregnancy and after childbirth are not.

“This policy penalizes female longshore workers for having children,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “By bumping women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth to the end of the line, PMA and ILWU are systematically blocking women from the high wages and excellent benefits that offer a path to economic security for them and their families.”

The women whose individual stories are outlined in the charges represent a group of thousands of non-union dockworkers known as “casuals” — the lowest rung on the port employment hierarchy. The class includes workers in 29 ports from north of Seattle down to San Diego.

So-called casual workers can only receive higher pay and ultimately coveted union membership by accumulating thousands of work hours. While the PMA and ILWU grant hours credit to workers who are unable to work due to job-related illness, injury, or disability, as well as military service, there is no such credit for absences due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. That means that pregnant women and new mothers who cannot work lose hundreds of hours and fall far behind their peers, losing a year or more of work credit per pregnancy and jeopardizing their chances of advancing to higher wage levels — from $31 an hour and up — as well as union membership, which brings job security and benefits like a pension and medical coverage. The union elevates casual workers on an ad hoc basis, sometimes waiting as long as a decade to open its ranks to new members.

By refusing to extend the same work hour accrual policy to workers absent due to pregnancy and childbirth as other absent workers, the ILWU and PMA are in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the charges say.

“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers and unions to give pregnant workers the same opportunities as those provided to non-pregnant employees,” said David Lopez, a partner at Outten & Golden LLP and former general counsel of the EEOC. “These charges are a necessary first step to ensure PMA and ILWU’s policy complies with the law.”

This is not the first time the PMA and ILWU have been the subject of class-wide sex discrimination claims. In 1983, they settled a lawsuit by 500 female longshore workers alleging systematic exclusion from union membership. At the time, just seven women were ILWU members. The settlement resulted in a consent decree — known as the “Golden Decree,” named for the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff — that stayed in effect for 16 years and resulted in as many as 1,000 women joining the union.

“As a casual longshore worker, the prospect of falling so far behind my coworkers in the long road toward joining the union, just because I had a baby, is heartbreaking. You work toward that goal for so long,” said Tracy Plummer, whose treatment as a longshore worker at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports is outlined in a charge to the EEOC. “Having a family means I need good wages and benefits more than ever. I look forward to the day when the PMA and ILWU recognize that mothers should be treated the same as our coworkers.”

Plummer’s full amended charge can be found here:

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release