International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 charged that Wednesday’s lockout of its workers in Vancouver, Wash., by United Grain Corp. constitutes an unfair labor practice, and a union spokeswoman said the ILWU plans to file formal charges in the next few days.
The company stated that it was locking out the ILWU because an investigator’s report it received this week charged that a union official was responsible for two acts of sabotage on Dec. 22, 2012, that will ultimately cost United Grain $105,000.
Bullard Law Firm, representing United Grain, added that since the December incident, the Vancouver grain export terminal has experienced “an unusually large number of unexplained and suspicious incidents of equipment failure and/or damage.”
The ILWU charged that rather than locking out the entire work force based on alleged sabotage by one individual, the company should have dealt with the union at the bargaining table.
The ILWU charged that by hiring outside security guards two months in advance of the lockout, United Grain was preparing for a lockout it knew would come. “This shows they have been itching to lock us out, rather than negotiate a fair contract,” said Leal Sundet, ILWU coast committeeman and co-negotiating chairman.
United Grain spokesperson Pat McCormack said, “We strongly disagree with union's claim that UGC has violated labor law by implementing its lockout. In light of the clear evidence of deliberate sabotage by an elected leader of ILWU Local 4, we took the steps necessary to protect the safety and security of our employees and facilities. The union has not filed any claim with the National Labor Relations Board. When and if it does, we're confident the agency's investigation will show our actions have been both legal and prudent.”
Six grain terminal operators in the Pacific had been engaged in contract negotiations with the ILWU since the previous agreement expired on Sept. 30, 2012. The grain handlers made their final offer in December, which was overwhelmingly rejected by the ILWU membership.
The companies then implemented their last contract offer and the union has been working since December under those contracts. The individual contracts developed by the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association have certain features in common, but each company also has site-specific provisions.
On Wednesday, TEMCO, a grain handler in the region that did not coordinate its bargaining with grain handlers’ association, reached an interim agreement with the ILWU on a five-year contract. Sundet said United Grain chose to announce its charges of sabotage at the facility “just days after the union membership ratified an agreement with TEMCO.”