Longshore workers ratify contract at NW grain terminals

Longshore workers who load grain at export terminals in Oregon and Washington ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.

The vote was 1,475 to 193, and included members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 8 in Portland,  Local 4 in Vancouver, Local 21 in Longview, Local 19 in Seattle, and Local 23 in Tacoma, Wash., employed at Louis Dreyfus Commodities (LDC) in Portland and Seattle, United Grain Corp. in Vancouver, and Columbia Grain Inc. in Portland. LDC is a French-owned company, United Grain is owned by Mitsui Corp. of Japan, and Columbia Grain is owned by Marubeni Corp. of Japan.

Negotiations began in August of 2012 and involved 70 separate sessions, including multiple marathon mediation sessions held under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). The Association imposed a concessionary contract in December 2012 that had been rejected by 94 percent of the ILWU. That was followed by lockouts at United Grain in February and Columbia Grain in May. [A fourth grain exporter, Tacoma-based TEMCO, left the Association in February 2013 and bargained its own contract with the ILWU. TEMCO has facilities in Kalama, Tacoma and Portland.]

Terms of the new contract include work rule changes and wage increases over the life of the agreement. Details of those changes were not disclosed. In a press release, ILWU said the contract is a result of both sides “compromising significantly from their original positions, resulting in a workable collective bargaining agreement that preserves the work of the ILWU-represented workforce and fosters stability for the export grain industry, the union said in a statement.”

Locked out union members returned to work Aug. 27, and the parties agreed to drop all pending National Labor Relations Board and other legal actions associated with the dispute.

The new pact will be in effect until May 31, 2018.

A tentative deal was reached five weeks after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee stopped providing state police escorts for grain inspectors entering United Grain’s terminal. The Washington Department of Agriculture requested the escorts more than eight months ago, citing safety concerns for its employees crossing a picket line. Inslee agreed to the taxpayer-funded escorts in hope that it would spur negotiations — and lead to a quick settlement. When that didn’t happen, he discontinued the service, effective July 6.

United Grain and the Clark County Board of Commissioners tried to persuade the county sheriff’s department to provide escorts, but Sheriff Garry Lucas declined. [United Grain offered to pay the sheriff’s department for the service.]

Without police escorts, grain inspectors refused to enter the facility, effectively shutting down grain exports at the Port of Vancouver.

On Aug. 12, FMCS announced that a tentative agreement had been reached.

Members of ILWU have loaded grain for export in the Pacific Northwest since 1934.


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