The members of four International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals voted overwhelmingly over the weekend to reject a final contract offer from grain export terminals in Oregon and Washington, with the next step in this three-month impasse uncertain at this time.
“In light of the union’s rejection of the offer, the employers are reviewing their options. Regardless of the outcome, they remain committed to operating,” the Northwest Grain Handlers Association said on Saturday.
“The men and women of the ILWU have voted to reject the profitable grain exporters’ concessionary demands, but we remain committed to reaching a fair agreement that continues our 80-year history of making these export terminals successful,” said Rich Austin, co-chairman of the union’s negotiating committee.
Approximately 3,000 members of the ILWU locals rejected what the grain handlers called their “last, best and final offer” by a margin of 93.8 percent.
Leo Sundet, ILWU coast committeeman, said the employers’ final offer was essentially the same as the original offer they made in September before the previous contract expired.
The two parties have had 34 days of meetings, with federal mediators participating in 11 of those bargaining sessions, but neither side appears to have budged much in their negotiating position.
Six grain terminals operated by United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus say they entered negotiations with the goal of achieving a contract that is similar to the agreements that were signed earlier by the ILWU with the EGT export grain terminal in Washington and the Kalama export terminal in Washington.
“Throughout negotiations, the employers have communicated to ILWU that they are willing to accept either of the contracts between the ILWU and EGT or Kalama Export,” the grain handlers association stated.
The grain handlers cited seven specific contract provisions where EGT and Kalama have a “better deal when it comes to certain working conditions.” The provisions include a requirement for fewer employees to load ships, flexibility to use elevator employees to assist in ship loading, greater management discretion in hiring and staffing decisions and a prohibition against work stoppages during the term of the agreement.
“We encourage the multinational owners of these elevators to return to the negotiating table instead of risking the U.S. grain export market as a means to break the union,” Austin said.
The ILWU membership cast ballots in person at the union halls in Oregon and Washington on Friday and Saturday. Prior to the vote, the employers reportedly hired a Delaware firm that provides security and replacement workers during strikes, which led to speculation that the grain handlers were prepared to lock out the union workers if they voted down the contract.