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Thursday, February 28, 2013

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United Grain Terminals locks out longshoremen as competitor announces five-year contract with ILWU dockworkers

United Grain Terminals, an arm of Japan's Mitsui and Co., locked out dockworkers at its Vancouver, Wash. facility on Wednesday, the same day grain handling firm Temco and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced the ratification of a five-year interim agreement covering grain terminals in Portland, Tacoma, and Kalama, Wash.

United Grain Terminals alleges an unnamed local union leader sabotaged operations at the West Coast's largest grain terminal, a charge the union has denied.

The longshoremen started picketing the Vancouver, Wash. terminal at 8 a.m. after the lockout, and declined to unload a container ship loaded with 2,000 cars at the Port of Vancouver.

The lockout inflames ongoing tension over contract terms between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the owners of grain terminals in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, represented by the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.

United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus Commodities made a final contract offer to dockworkers in November that the membership voted down. Longshoremen continued working under the old contract terms, awaiting further talks. Columbia and Louis Dreyfus have not locked out workers.

Temco, formerly the fourth grain terminal owner represented by the association, broke with the group in late 2012 to negotiate its own deal with union workers.

United Grain said an investigation conducted by a former FBI agent found that a Vancouver union official had placed a metal pipe into a conveyer system and put sand and water into railcar moving equipment.

A United Grain spokesman said security cameras captured the union leader carrying out both acts, and that he has been fired and the investigation materials were turned over to Clark County prosecutors and the FBI.

"We concluded that we cannot risk further vandalism that might disrupt safety or impeded operations," Gary Schuld, United Grain chief executive officer, said in a statement Wednesday. "Therefore this morning we notified the union of our intention to operate the terminal without ILWU labor. Law enforcement officials have been contacted."

The ILWU released a statement yesterday alleging that Mitsui-United Grain made up the sabotage story in order to justify a lockout.

"It's no coincidence that Mitsui-United Grain has chosen to throw out unfounded charges by an unnamed 'investigator' just days after the union membership ratified an agreement with Mistui-United Grain's American competitors at Temco in Portland, Kalama and Tacoma," said spokesperson Jennifer Sargent in an email.

No details were released about the agreement between Temco and ILWU Locals 23, 21, 19, 8 and 4, which will be signed and take effect on March 9, 2013.

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