Longshoremen in the Pacific Northwest are intensifying their efforts to draw attention to the plight of International Longshore and Warehouse Union members that have been locked out of a grain elevator in Vancouver, Wash., since Feb. 27.
Meanwhile, the organization representing grain handlers in the region said ILWU Local 4 members are welcome to return to their jobs at the United Grain Corp. elevator if they accept the company’s contract terms.
The dispute highlights the tension present in the Pacific Northwest grain export industry. The ILWU seeks to preserve traditional work practices, while member companies of the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association seek to implement work practices that will increase productivity.
The ILWU continues to demonstrate in front of the United Grain headquarters in downtown Vancouver. The union is distributing fliers charging that United Grain, which is owned by Mitsui Co. of Japan, benefits from taxpayer-funded infrastructure in Washington state while ILWU members are locked out of the grain export terminal.
“Northwest taxpayers invest in ports and railroads to create local jobs, but Mitsui has shown that it doesn’t care about Washington’s workers or our communities,” said Cager Clabaugh, president of ILWU Local 4.
The PNW Grain Handlers Association, which represents some of the export terminals in the region, said the ILWU workers were locked out of the United Grain terminal after an independent investigation determined that a Local 4 leader and a member of the union’s bargaining team had “deliberately sabotaged equipment” at the terminal.
The grain handlers group last November made its final contract offer after difficult negotiations with the ILWU. The union rejected the employers’ offer by a wide margin, but United Grain implemented the contract’s terms.
Local 4 members refused to work at United Grain under those terms, and the company replaced the union workers with management and non-represented United Grain employees.
Contractual conditions at the half-dozen grain terminals in the region vary, with some terminals having negotiated separate contracts with the ILWU while others have implemented the final offer of the employers’ association.
The PNW Grain Handlers Association said the contract that was implemented by employers is meant to even the playing field with the EGT export terminal contract that the Longview, Wash., operator negotiated last year with the ILWU.
“The ILWU’s decision to offer advantageous contract terms to a major new grain export terminal (EGT) last year gave that operator a significant competitive advantage over other terminals in the region, including United Grain. Understandably, other terminal operators sought similar provisions in their agreements with the ILWU,” the employers’ group stated.
The ILWU said the contracts it has signed with grain terminal operators over the past 80 years have protected worker rights and preserved middle-class jobs in the region while allowing the grain companies to operate profitably.