United Grain locks out ILWU Local 4


Cager Clabaugh (right), president of ILWU Local 4 in Vancouver, addressed crowd March 8 at Esther Short Park in Vancouver. Longshore workers were locked out of their jobs Feb. 27 by Japanese-owed Mitsui-United Grain. ILWU Local 4 members have loaded grain and other cargo at the Port of Vancouver since 1934.

VANCOUVER — The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 4 has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Mitsui-United Grain for the company’s lockout of its workforce at the Port of Vancouver that began Feb. 27.

United Grain Corporation, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, said through a spokesman that it took the action after an internal investigation showed sabotage by a member of the union bargaining team.

The ULP charge was filed March 4 at the National Labor Relation Board’s Region 19 office in Seattle. The basis of the charge includes the union’s assertion that Mitsui-United Grain “took the extreme measure of locking out its entire bargaining unit even though by its own statements it had identified and terminated the employee allegedly responsible for the property damage [that the company claimed took place on Dec. 22 — five days before its unilateral implementation of its final offer.] This constituted loss of employment based on anti-union animus, and a sweeping unilateral change of terms and conditions of employment.”

In a press release, ILWU called the company’s allegations of sabotage “fabricated”  and “an excuse to do what they’ve wanted to do all along, which is to lock workers out instead of reach a fair agreement with them.”

United Grain was a party to a collective bargaining agreement between ILWU and the multi-employer Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association. But that contract expired Sept. 29, 2012. ILWU members continued to work, without a contract.

On Dec. 22, United Grain and two other members of the employer group  — Louis Dreyfus Commodities and Columbia Grain — imposed the terms of their final offer, after ILWU members rejected them in a vote the union reported as 93.8 percent opposed. ILWU members continued to work under those employer terms.

A third member of the employer group, TEMCO LLC, broke ranks and kept the old contract terms in place after the contract expired, and then negotiated a separate “interim” agreement covering its three grain terminals in Portland, Kalama, and Tacoma. That agreement was ratified by ILWU Locals 4, 8, 19, 21, and 23 and was announced Feb. 27.

TEMCO is a joint venture owned by Cargill and CHS, Inc., which are U.S. companies based in Minnesota.

“The United States is a major supplier of grains to the world, and the export facilities in Portland, Tacoma, and Kalama are important export terminals to serve those markets,” said Paul Butters, general manager of TEMCO in a press statement. “We appreciate the constructive approach that the ILWU leadership provided in reaching this agreement, which is good for U.S. farmers and global customers who seek U.S. products.”

Though it has a five-year term, the contract is described as an interim agreement because it’s “subject to modification to reflect an eventual final agreement between the ILWU and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.”

Neither side would divulge details of the interim agreement.

At a rally March 8 at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath — with the TEMCO contract in hand — led a crowd of approximately 500 people to personally deliver it to United Grain’s office a few blocks away. When they arrived, doors to the building were locked. After a lengthy round of chanting, a Vancouver police officer offered to deliver it to the company, which he did.

Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association spokesperson Pat McCormick told the Labor Press United Grain and the others want a contract on similar terms to the one that ILWU signed with EGT in Longview, Washington, and with Kalama Export in Kalama. Those contracts contain major concessions in union rights and workplace rules.

At the March 8 rally, Cager Clabaugh, president of ILWU Local 4, said United Grain is spending millions of dollars bringing in an anti-union security firm and housing out-of-state replacement workers. “They’re spending I don’t know how many millions of dollars to get rid of us. Why? They want to take our union protection, and that’s it; eliminate our voice from the workplace. We’re here to show them that we’re not going to let that happen. We don’t care how long. We’re going to win this struggle.”

ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe said the union is mobilizing support worldwide. “If they want to take this fight from Vancouver to wherever, we’re ready. We are going to battle; one day longer, one day stronger!” he said.

Locally, leaders from the Teamsters  and the Inlandboatmen’s Union said its members support locked-out ILWU members at the Port of Vancouver.

Teamster drivers will not cross the ILWU picket line, declared Tony Andrews, president of Portland-based Teamsters Joint Council No. 37. “We protect your work; you protect ours,” he said.

Alan Cote of the Inlandboatmen’s Union said his members, too, will honor ILWU picket lines. “It will be as difficult as humanly possible to bring ships in and use tugboats on this river. (We) have your back.”

The lockout means loss of employment for members of ILWU Local 4, which dispatches eight to 22 members per shift for up to two eight-hour shifts a day when ships are at the terminal. Local 4 represents 200 men and women who have loaded grain and other cargo at the Port of Vancouver since 1934.

On the lockout’s first day, ILWU members picketed at the main gate to the Port of Vancouver from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Members declined to cross the picket line, and as a result, a ship carrying Subaru vehicles was not unloaded. The next day ILWU shifted its picket to the east gate, and the Subaru ship was unloaded.

To improve conditions for picketers, the Port of Vancouver removed barriers to nearby parking, laid down gravel, and arranged to bring in a port-a-potty.

At the United Grain terminal, ILWU members continue to picket outside the gate, while nonunion workers load grain ships.

“It’s shameful that a Japanese corporation that’s profiting from the United States’ infrastructure, natural resources and labor, has chosen to violate our federal law instead of negotiating a fair labor agreement with its American workforce,” said McEllrath, a Vancouver-based longshoreman. “Mitsui-United Grain should stop violating the law, end this harmful lockout, and follow the example set by its American competitors who have reached a satisfactory agreement.”

At Louis Dreyfus elevators in Seattle and Portland, and at the Columbia Grain terminal in Portland, ILWU members continue to load grain ships without a contract, under the employer’s terms.


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