ILWU Local 4 (Vancouver) and 8 (Portland) didn’t strike and continued to work under concessionary conditions imposed by the grain bosses. Now their members are locked out and their jobs have been taken by scabs. Are complaints to the bosses’ courts their only response? Union members have warned that the accepting the EGT contract well over a year ago would lead to this. Question: how can any ILWU work tomorrow at any port on the west coast? Their jobs are next…
Columbia Grain export terminal locks out longshore workers at the Port of Portland
By Richard Read
The Oregonian, May 4, 2013
Picketers protest outside Columbia Grain on Saturday at Port of Portland’s Terminal 5.
A bitter labor dispute on Northwest docks escalated Saturday as Columbia Grain Inc. locked out Portland longshore workers, accusing them of obstructing exports by gaming the system.
The lockout, which began at 6 a.m. at Columbia’s Port of Portland grain elevator, compounds a similar action at United Grain Corp. in Vancouver, where dockworkers have been shut out since Feb. 27.
Columbia Grain accused members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of slowing operations at its terminal, where wheat, corn, soybeans and other U.S. commodities arrive by train and barge for loading on ships bound for Asia and beyond. On Saturday the company, owned by Japan’s Marubeni Corp., employed managers and temporary workers to load a vessel as union members picketed outside.
“With bargaining stalled and the longshore workers engaging in ‘inside game’ tactics, including slowdowns, work-to-rule, and demands for repeated inspections of the same equipment – all designed to negatively impact Columbia Grain’s operations – we have decided that a lockout is our best alternative,” the company said in a written statement.
Columbia Grain and United Grain are members of a bargaining group pushing the longshore union for concessions to match employer-friendly working conditions at competing terminals in Longview and Kalama, Wash. Members of the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association say that union perks, featherbedding and foot-dragging cost millions of dollars a year in a low-margin business, threatening the survival of their terminals.
By contrast, longshore union leaders depict the companies as highly profitable, foreign-owned ventures trying to squeeze local workers.
Bruce Holte, president of ILWU Local 8, said Columbia Grain hired replacement workers last fall, when contract talks were in early stages, showing that the company never intended to reach agreement.
“Unfortunately, Marubeni-Columbia Grain has done what it’s wanted to do all along, and locked out local workers who have made this company profitable for decades,” Holte said in a written statement. “Rather than reach a fair agreement, the company has hired an out-of-state strike-breaking firm, attorneys and a publicist to make allegations against local workers who simply want to do our jobs and support our community.”
More than 50 protesters picketed Saturday at the Port of Portland, where Portland police officers stood by along with security guards contracted by the Port and others hired by Columbia Grain. Adding to the conflict, Port of Portland security guards represented by the longshore union accused the Port of improperly displacing them.
“We have filed a grievance and are seeking comparable hours to what the Port is paying its contracted security,” said David Vale, steward for the ILWU Local 28 security officers, in an e-mail. “That could eventually amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of which is taxpayer provided.”
A contract expired Sept. 30 between the union and the grain handlers, a negotiating group that includes Columbia Grain, United Grain and Louis Dreyfus Commodities. The terminal operators declared an impasse late last year and imposed terms of a final contract offer that union members had rejected in a vote.
But Temco, another member of the negotiating group, defected from the association and reached its own tentative contract with the union.
In Vancouver, United Grain has continued operating during its lockout, using managers and non-union workers to unload train cars and load ships. Columbia Grain used a similar approach Saturday, as managers and temporary workers loaded grain into the Yu Hong, an 82,000-ton Panama-flagged bulk carrier.
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