Thursday, September 27, 2012
Pacific Northwest grain operators prepare as ILWU strike looms
In the midst of tense labor negotiations and a contract due to expire in five days, managers of grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest are bracing for a longshoremen strike. Half of the nation's wheat exports flow through Portland and Puget Sound ports.
Four managers in the Portland region and two in the Puget Sound region appear to be preparing for a lockout, beefing up security and lining up non-union replacements, according to the Columbia River Steamship Operators Association.
"I'd anticipate nothing will move with union workers," if negotiators fail to agree, said Jim Townley, the association's executive director.
Neither side will comment on the status of ongoing talks.
Terminal operators want an agreement similar to one made in early 2012 at Export Grain Terminal in Longview, Wash., which lowers costs and ups efficiency at the expense of longshoremen's working conditions. That contract was preceded by weeks of heated protests that resulted in some demonstrators storming the terminal, assaulting a guard, and damaging rail cars.
The grain terminal operators assert they must have the same kind of deal to stay competitive with EGT.
A group of 10 current and retired longshoremen in the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union are fiercely opposed to the EGT deal that bargained away workers' leverage, and expressed their anger in a June letter to ILWU's president and coast committeeman. Their main points of contention are that EGT gets to bypass the union and hire dockworkers directly, and can fire workers without cause. Further, EGT managers are allowed to bring in "scabs," or non-union workers, during times of disagreements with labor.
"It heads our union in the wrong direction at the wrong time," says the memo, leaked this month, "caving in to employer intimidation and greed just before we begin the Northwest Grain Handlers' contract negotiations."
Talks are occurring at the peak of harvest season, and farmers in the Midwest and Northwest are worried about the outcome of the talks, which involve terminals that handle about a quarter of U.S. grain exports, including wheat, corn and soybeans.
For more of the Oregon Live story: oregonlive.com
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