Labor, Pacific Ports and Bob McEllrath

One of the most memorable images from last week's highly heated and sometimes violent actions by International Longshore and Warehouse Union members at the Port of Longview in Washington was that of a clearly enraged ILWU President Bob McEllrath's being led away amid the arrests and chaos during the confrontation over grain shipments at the terminal there.

The ILWU faces enormous questions over the actions but the confrontation and the dispute over which union will staff the grain terminal also carries deep significance for McEllrath himself.

The Pacific Northwest, after all, is Bob McEllrath's home turf. His roots are there. If he cannot stop a non-ILWU terminal from starting operations there, he's likely to face tough questions over his ability to keep the terminals in the region under sole ILWU jurisdiction.

Right now, the union's jurisdiction is up to the courts. EGT Development is leasing the terminal from the Port of Longview and, as McEllrath wrote in a letter this month to ILWU locals, "EGT is attempting to break the master grain agreement and become the first grain export terminal in the Pacific Northwest to operate without the ILWU."

Bob McEllrath certainly knows the history: He started work at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., in 1969. He has a son who is a member of IWLU Local 92 in Portland, Ore. These ports are his life's work.

A judge in the coming month will take up the ILWU's argument that the agreement between EGT and the port mandate that the terminal run with ILWU labor. Regardless of how the judge decides, however, the ILWU will not let a non-ILWU operator get a foothold on the West Coast.

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