Police officers on Sept. 7 clashed with members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) who were blocking a train from delivering grain to a new foreign-owned terminal at the Port of Longview.
The incident led to a shutdown of ports in Seattle, Everett, Anacortes, and Tacoma the following day, where longshoremen refused to report to work for the day.
Longview-based ILWU Local 21 has been trying since January to secure an agreement with EGT Development to use longshore workers to operate a new $200 million grain export terminal. EGT — a joint venture of Japan-based Itochu Corp, South Korea’s STX Pan Ocean and St. Louis-based Bunge North America — leased the property from the Port of Longview, but insists it is not obligated to employ ILWU members. EGT has sued the Port in federal court to avoid hiring them.
ILWU has on several occasions blocked trains from delivering grain to EGT and has held protest rallies, including one at EGT’s corporate office in downtown Portland that drew more than 1,000 people.
More than 125 people have been arrested since the dispute began.
On the morning of Sept. 7, protesters gathered at the Port of Vancouver to block a 107-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe train headed to the EGT terminal to deliver grain. After a two-hour standoff with police, the train was let through.
Later that afternoon, some 400 protesters stood on the tracks at the entrance of the Port of Longview to prevent the train from entering.
According to union officials, 50 police in riot gear charged the group — which included women and children — using batons and pepper spray on some of the protesters. No one was seriously injured.
In a media briefing, Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson said police were trying to disperse the crowd through a public address system, but their orders were shouted down.
“We’ve danced this dance before,” Nelson said. “When our officers went in to make peaceful, lawful trespass arrests, they were rushed by a mob of hundreds of protesters who were resistive and throwing things at the officers.”
In all, 19 protesters were arrested.
“Everyone came to the tracks on their own free will to stand up for justice and protect good jobs in this community,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, who stood with the protesters and was detained by police, but not arrested. “It shouldn’t be a crime to fight for good jobs in America.”
McEllrath told protesters after he met with police that: “You can get maced and tear-gassed and clubbed (today)” or wait for longshore support from all over the West Coast when the next train tries to enter the EGT terminal.
“If we leave here, it doesn’t mean that we gave up and quit,” he said. “It means we’re coming back.”
Early the following morning, on Sept. 8, hundreds of ILWU members reportedly stormed the EGT terminal, broke down the gates, overpowered security guards, damaged railroad cars, and dumped grain, according to Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha.
Fifty police officers from Kelso, Longview, Cowlitz County, the Washington State Patrol, Woodland, Kalama and the Burlington Northern Railroad responded to the scene. No one was injured, and there were no arrests, Duscha said.
The Longview Daily News reported that grain was spilled from about 70 of the 107 cars.
Associated Press reported that security guards were held hostage.
“That didn’t happen,” Craig Merrilees, communications director of the ILWU, told Carlisle, Pennsylvania, radio host Rick Smith on the Rick Smith Show. “The reporter and the police chief who was responsible for that erroneous information recanted that account,” Merrilees said.
The fracas did get the attention of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global federation of 779 unions representing over 4.6 million transport workers in 155 countries. ITF condemned the police action and called on ETG to live up to the work agreement the ILWU has at the Port of Longview.
“EGT is playing with fire, and they know it,”said ITF President Paddy Crumlin in a press release. “They need to take a big step back and think about what they are trying to force through, then see sense and talk to the ILWU about how to resolve this issue before it escalates even further.”
Also on Sept. 8, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton in Tacoma issued a preliminary injunction to stop acts of picketing misconduct. The National Labor Relations Board had sought a motion to ban all picketing at the EGT facility.
The injunction prohibits the ILWU from blocking rail lines, impeding business, making threats or engaging in violence.
The injunction applies to all trains or ships headed to or from EGT, no matter where the train or ship are at the time. A violation of the injunction could result in federal civil contempt charges and fines of up to $25,000 per violation.
Judge Leighton had issued a temporary restraining order the previous week, and has scheduled a contempt hearing for Sept. 15.
On Aug. 29, the NLRB issued a complaint against ILWU Locals 21 and 4 alleging that their acts prior to Sept. 7 violated federal labor law. A hearing is scheduled on that complaint before an administrative law judge on Oct. 11.