The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, in a determined effort to protect its jurisdiction — or carve out new jurisdiction — is escalating its picketing activities in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
The ongoing demonstrations, which have turned ugly at times, have resulted in occasional disruptions in cargo-handling at the container terminals and grain elevators in the region. However, the incidents at the grain terminals, which earlier this year locked out the ILWU in a contract dispute, have cast a pall over the Pacific Northwest ports as having unsafe working conditions.
Conditions were deemed so disruptive and unsafe at the United Grain Terminal in Vancouver that the director of the Washington Department of Agriculture said state inspectors would stop serving the terminal in the first week of September if the port authority does not step up security.
Citing an incident on Aug. 14 when about 40 ILWU picketers harassed a state agricultural inspector attempting to enter the grain terminal’s gate, Don Hover said one of his staff members was vulnerable to serious physical harm.
“This incident included a picketer opening the vehicle door of one of our inspectors, yelling obscenities in the inspector’s face and kicking the door shut,” Hover stated in an Aug. 19 letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. The Washington State Department of Agriculture performs inspection on behalf of the federal agency.
ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said United Grain has created unsafe working conditions through “provocative moves” of using strike breakers to replace ILWU workers whose families have been employed at the facility for generations.
Those actions by United include “hiring an out-of-state strike-breaking firm, bringing scab boats and mercenary security guards into our river and demanding constant passage of vehicles through human picket lines,” Sargent said.
Port spokeswoman Theresa Wagner said port security personnel are doing everything they can to maintain a safe working environment, and Vancouver police are called in when necessary. The Vancouver Police Department reported that officers were called to the terminal 19 times since July 1.
An especially disconcerting incident occurred at the Portland-area Columbia Grain terminal in mid-July. An ILWU picketer was filmed forcing a raccoon by its snout into a chain-link fence. The animal appeared to be almost lifeless, but was still moving.
During the incident, ILWU demonstrators shouted racial epithets at the security guards and strike-breakers at the facility, who were men of color, allegedly asking them if they would eat the raccoon. Police arrested the picketer on an accusation of animal neglect and also cited potential racial bias.
The union, and ILWU Local 8, called the incident inappropriate at many levels and far out of line with the values of the union.
The issues at the Terminal 6 container terminal in Portland and Terminal 46 container terminal in Seattle were much less incendiary, but port executives are concerned that they could escalate and possibly impact cargo-handling.
The ILWU in Portland has been fighting for more than a year with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for jurisdiction over two jobs maintaining refrigerated container operations at Terminal 6. Since it is the port’s only container terminal, disruptions can be damaging to Portland’s reputation as a container gateway. In fact, some vessel diversions occurred last year in the ongoing saga.
An administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday issued a lengthy decision ordering the ILWU to stop disrupting operations at the container terminal. The union has filed a number of grievances and lawsuits against the Port of Portland and the terminal operator, ICTSI, charging that the ILWU has jurisdiction over the reefer positions.
The administrative law judge said the IBEW has jurisdiction over the two positions. The port and ICTSI maintain that the IBEW for many years worked those jobs when Portland was an operating port. When ICTSI, which is a member of the Pacific Maritime Association, took over operation two years ago, the ILWU said the terminal fell under the jurisdiction of its coastwide contract.
In Seattle, where the state is engaged in a multiyear highway tunnel project near Terminal 46, the ILWU is claiming jurisdiction over four construction-related jobs loading debris onto barges at the facility.
ILWU Local 19 President Cameron Williams said the union has an agreement with the project developer and had already been working the barges, without delay, when the ILWU was barred from the work after what he termed a “moot arbitration.”
The ILWU last week called a brief work stoppage, saying dust from the construction presented a health hazard and made it difficult for longshoremen to see what they were doing on the docks. This raised concerns in Seattle that further work stoppages could occur at the facility.