Upcoming ILWU Protest of EGT To Be Restrained

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is preparing to protest the hiring of non-ILWU labor at the soon-to-be-opened EGT export grain terminal in Longview, Wash., although its response will most likely be more measured than the job actions it took last year.

Last summer the ILWU pounded the EGT facility with a stream of demonstrations, and in one of the actions Robert McEllrath, international president, was briefly detained for attempting to block a BNSF train carrying grain from entering the facility.

EGT won a National Labor Relations Board injunction limiting, but not prohibiting demonstrations, after ILWU actions resulted in destruction of property at the facility.

In a letter Tuesday to the ILWU membership, McEllrath said the first grain vessel to call at EGT is expected to arrive this month, although the exact date is uncertain, and the union is planning its strategy for the vessel arrival.

EGT plans to bring the terminal on line “in the near term,” said Larry Clarke, chief executive officer. He noted that an injunction that is in place prohibits demonstrators from blocking ingress and egress to the facility.

A spokeswoman for the Port of Longview said the port authority doesn't expect to hear from the terminal until linemen are requested to tie up the vessel to the berth. She noted that ILWU linesmen will handle that work.

McEllrath told the ILWU membership that EGT continues to refuse to return to negotiations with Local 21 in Longview after bargaining with the union for almost two years about performing grain-handling work at the facility. After negotiations broke off last year, EGT contracted with an employer that uses labor from another union.

The ILWU membership in subsequent demonstrations must be aware of the “narrow path” the union has to walk through the federal Taft-Hartly Act that restricts a union’s effectiveness in demonstrating at a job site, McEllrath said.

Last year one of the ILWU job actions resulted in shutting down container operations at other Pacific Northwest ports, but the union leadership does not want that to happen again. “A call for a protest of EGT is not a call for a shutdown of West Coast ports and must not result in one,” McEllrath said.

He also reminded the ILWU membership that demonstrations at EGT last year resulted in the arrest of dozens of union members and their spouses.

McEllrath said the ILWU, which for more than 70 years has represented dock workers at all West Coast ports, is developing a protest strategy that sends the following message to EGT and local law enforcement agencies:

“EGT is threatening the stability of the local community and the Pacific Northwest grain export industry, and law enforcements’ collusion with EGT is destroying the public’s trust.”

The Occupy movement, which disrupted operations in Oakland and Portland on Dec. 12, has cited the EGT situation as one of the reasons why its members have demonstrated at West Coast ports.

The Occupy movement sent out a notice this week saying it will sponsor a caravan to Longview when the date of the grain vessel’s arrival is known. The notice said its actions are supported by the ILWU rank and file, but the ILWU said Thursday only its officers are authorized to speak on behalf of the union.

-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bmongelluzzo@joc.com. Follow him on Twitter @billmongelluzzo.

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