Grain terminal operators in the Pacific Northwest on Saturday agreed to enter mediation with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union next week in an attempt to avoid a strike or lockout.
The grain handlers’ announcement came at 5 p.m. Saturday as their previously stated deadline for ILWU acceptance of their final contract offer passed without any response from the union. The employers’ group had made its final contract offer to the union on Nov. 16.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers and the ILWU both announced their intention to keep grain moving through the six export terminals in Oregon and Washington to give mediation a chance. The talks are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
The employers’ group maintains that negotiations have reached an impasse, but the employers said, “We plan to remain in full operation and have no present plans for a lockout.”
On Friday, 12 members of the congressional delegation from Oregon and Washington wrote a letter to the grain handlers association and the ILWU calling for further contract negotiations that would result in a fair contract for both parties.
The congressional representatives said an interruption in grain exports would have a “devastating” effect on the economy. Pacific Northwest terminals handle approximately 25 percent of all U.S. grain exports.
The ILWU contract with six terminal operators expired on Sept. 30.
The employers stated previously that their proposed offer would give the six terminals parity with a contract that was signed earlier this year by the ILWU and the newly opened EGT grain export terminal in Longview, Wash.
The EGT contract, which was negotiated after months of demonstrations and numerous arrests of ILWU members, has provisions that are more favorable to EGT than the contract under which the other six terminals have been operating.
The ILWU said the grain companies have operated profitably under the previous contract, and that contract helped to preserve the safety of workers in a dangerous profession.
Rumors in recent weeks indicated the employers were considering a lockout. The ILWU has stated from the beginning it has no intention of striking.