Indicating that little progress has been made on key issues despite help from a federal mediator, the employers’ bargaining organization that represents six grain export terminals in the Pacific Northwest presented the International Longshore and Warehouse Union with its final contract offer.
The union responded Sunday that, despite reports to the contrary, its membership has not decided to call a strike. “We want to keep the grain moving as we have done nonstop since the 1930s,” ILWU Coast Committeeman Leo Sundet said.
The Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers and ILWU locals from Portland; Vancouver, Wash.; Tacoma; and Seattle have been negotiating since August. The previous contract expired at the end of September.
When it became obvious to both parties in mid-October that they were far apart, the employers and the ILWU agreed to seek assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Negotiations have been held since Oct. 29 with the participation of the FMCS, but discussions have failed to produce an agreement.
The employers said the sticking points do not involve salaries and benefits, but rather “uncompetitive workplace rules that are significantly different from those agreed to between the ILWU and two competing grain terminals on the Columbia River.”
The key benchmark contract for employers was signed earlier this year by the EGT grain export terminal in Longview, Wash., and the ILWU, after months of bitter demonstrations and numerous arrests involving longshoremen and their spouses. EGT had attempted to open the terminal with labor represented by another union.
In one of those demonstrations, the ILWU’s international president, Robert McEllrath, was detained and charged with attempting to block a train from entering the terminal.
EGT and the ILWU finally agreed to a tentative arrangement earlier this year that was brokered by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. EGT agreed to hire labor represented by the ILWU.
However, the contract that the ILWU eventually negotiated with EGT contains provisions that differ from the contract under which six other terminals in the region have been operating. The six terminals that are represented by the grain handlers association are reportedly seeking concessions from the union similar to what EGT has in its contract with the ILWU.
Sundet said the terminals have profited under the previous contract that expired at the end of September. He said the ILWU has been bargaining in good faith, as the union has done since the 1930s.
“We believe that in light of a low-yielding harvest and corresponding high bushel prices, the profitable grain merchants are using the circumstances to undermine a mature 80-year contract with longshoremen that made the Northwest one of the most productive grain export regions in the world,” Sundet said.
The ILWU will not comment on the employers’ final offer until it has been shared with the union membership, but Sundet said any reports about the union planning to call a strike are not accurate.
The six terminals that are members of the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers are the Louis Dreyfus terminal in Seattle; Temco/Cargill in Tacoma; United Grain/Mitsui in Vancouver, Wash.; and Temco/Cargill, Louis Dreyfus and Columbia Grain/Marubeni in Portland.