Saturday, September 10, 2011

[olympiaworkers] Here’s why Longshore workers in Longview are so angry

The Stand

LONGVIEW (Sept. 8th) — Violence erupted today in a major labor dispute
that has simmered for months at the Port of Longview, leading to work
shutdowns at ports up and down the Washington coast. Why are members of
the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) — and their
supporters in Washington and Oregon — so upset about a grain terminal that
employs just 50 workers?

Here's why.

EGT Development is a joint venture of Japan-based Itochu Corp, South
Korea's STX Pan Ocean and St. Louis-based Bunge North America. Like so
many corporations that promise good jobs to get what they want, EGT got a
special state tax exemption and a sweetheart lease deal from the Port of
Longview to build a $200 million grain terminal there. The government even
seized adjacent land for the project. But as soon as the deal's ink was
dry and the ceremonial first shovel of dirt was overturned two years ago,
EGT began running the project on the cheap.

Despite high unemployment in Cowlitz County and the availability of
hundreds of skilled union building trades workers, EGT imported the vast
majority of its construction crews from low-wage communities out-of-state
and did not pay area standard wages, leading to howls from the local labor

After the terminal was built, EGT decided to ignore the Port of Longview's
contract with ILWU Local 21 to hire union labor on its leased site.
Instead, the multinational conglomerate hired non-union workers — claiming
it would save the company $1 million a year (a figure the company later
admitted had been plucked from the sky) — and EGT sued the Port, arguing
it was not bound by the contract with the ILWU.

For months, ILWU picketed EGT and attempted to pressure the company to
negotiate with the union. Those protests gradually grew in size as EGT
refused to meet with the union, culminating in a major rally on June 3,
when more than 1,000 ILWU supporters from Washington to California rallied
outside EGT's headquarters in downtown Portland. The protest was loud, but

The dispute escalated at a July 11 protest outside the EGT terminal in
Longview, when members tore down a chain-link gate and stormed the EGT
grain terminal. About 100 union dock workers, including union leaders,
were cited and arrested.

"We are going to fight for our jobs in our jurisdiction. We have worked
this dock for 70 years, and to have a big, rich corporation come in and
say, 'We don't want you,' is a problem," ILWU 21 President Dan Coffman
told the (Longview) Daily News. "We're all together. We're all going to
jail as a union."

On July 14, hundreds of union dock workers crowded onto railroad tracks to
block a train from delivering grain to the EGT terminal. The Daily News
reported that the 107-car train was rerouted to Vancouver following the
standoff, which prompted Burlington Northern Santa Fe to indefinitely
suspend train traffic to the grain terminal for safety reasons.

"By far this is the most intense labor event that I can remember," Cowlitz
County Sheriff Mark Nelson told the Daily News. But he said he understands
what the union is trying to accomplish even though he didn't agree with
its tactics. "Bless their hearts. These are our neighbors, too. These are
our folks. This is our community."

EGT was feeling the heat, and community support for the local ILWU workers
was growing as more people learned the facts of the dispute.

Then the company made a surprise announcement that it would hire a
unionized subcontractor to run the terminal. EGT signed an agreement with
Federal Way-based General Construction Co., a subsidiary of Kiewit, to
operate the terminal with union members from the Portland-based
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701.

The Washington State Labor Council condemned EGT's attempt to pit union
members against each other.

"EGT, a Japanese multinational corporation that has received tax breaks
from our state to build this grain elevator, has thumbed its nose at the
members of ILWU Local 21 and is trying to pit workers against workers,
local unions against local unions. This is unacceptable," said WSLC
President Jeff Johnson (pictured at left at a July 24 rally). "The work at
the Port of Longview is longshore work and we need to come together as
community and labor and say 'no' to EGT — 'you will not disrespect labor
in Longview or anywhere else in our state'."

There have been numerous incidents provoked by EGT's union-vs.-union
arrangement. Most recently, a contractor drove right through the ILWU
picket line on Aug. 29 and struck two ILWU members who, fortunately, were
not seriously injured. Although the contractor was not cited or arrested
for the vehicular assault, an angry ILWU picketer was arrested for
allegedly damaging the next vehicle that attempted to cross the picket
line, a charge based on video surveillance provided by an EGT security

The next day, the National Labor Relations Board announced it was seeking
a court order to end "aggressive picketing" at the EGT facility and allow
Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains to deliver grain to the facility. Such
an order was issued last week, according to Rich Ahearn, director of the
NLRB's Seattle office.

Which brings us to yesterday, Sept. 7.

Some 400 ILWU members stood on the railroad tracks to block a train from
delivering grain to the terminal for about four hours, but the train
passed through after protesters were confronted by 50 police officers in
riot gear. ILWU President Robert McEllrath, who attended the protest, was
detained by police, escalating tensions between protesters and officers.
In the confrontation that ensued, police beat protesters away with clubs
and pepper spray.

ILWU President Robert McEllrath is detained by police Sept. 7. Click to
enlarge and see photo credit.

Ultimately, McEllrath returned to urge members to end the standoff.

"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, McEllrath reportedly told protesters after he
met with police. "If we leave here, it doesn't mean that we gave up and
quit. It means we're coming back."

All but 16 of the protesters returned to the union hall; the 16 who
refused were arrested for trespassing.

Early this morning, hundreds of ILWU members and their supporters
reportedly stormed the EGT terminal at the Port of Longview, broke down
the gates, overpowered security guards, damaged railroad cars, and dumped
grain, according to Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha. Initial reports
indicated no one was hurt and nobody has been arrested. After a few hours,
the protesters returned to their union hall.

So that's where we stand, as of this writing.

To sum up: a taxpayer-subsidized international conglomerate, which is
operating on public property, is suing the public so it can avoid paying
the area's standard wages and undercut its competitors that do. Then, it
exacerbated tensions with the local labor community by importing union
workers from another jurisdiction to cross the picket lines.

That's why ILWU members are angry, and that's why this is about more than
just 50 jobs in Longview.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that the Oregon
AFL-CIO had weighed in on EGT's effort to pit unions against each other.
That state federation has taken no position in this dispute. A resolution
previously approved by the Oregon AFL-CIO was ruled out of order by the
national AFL-CIO.

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