"Northwest grain terminal lockout would pit longshoremen against strikebreakers"

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Joined: 15-04-06
Dec 23 2012 18:43
"Northwest grain terminal lockout would pit longshoremen against strikebreakers"

I was reading this article and would be interested in any on the ground comments:

Northwest grain terminal lockout would pit longshoremen against strikebreakers
By Richard Read, The Oregonian on December 22, 2012 at 9:00 AM, updated December 22, 2012 at 8:50 PM

Two of three fully-crewed non-union tugboats wait on the Willamette River in Portland to dock ships in case of a lockout of longshoremen at Northwest grain terminals. Strikebreakers dispatched by J.R. Gettier & Associates are also standing by on high alert. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

Scores of out-of-state strikebreakers wait on high alert in Northwest hotel rooms, ready to replace longshoremen in case of a lockout at grain terminals.

Three fully crewed, non-union tugboats protected by armed guards stand by, prepared to keep grain ships docking. In a provocative move, a California company has moored the tugs on the Willamette River near longshore Local 8's Northwest Portland union hall.

Quietly, owners of Portland, Vancouver and Puget Sound terminals have spent months preparing for a battle royal on the waterfront, lining up troops and assets like chess pieces. The agribusiness giants have laid legal groundwork for a lockout, which could occur anytime after a Monday noon deadline.

Key developments

Labor dispute unfolds
Jan. 23: A longshore union local grants big concessions to end a bitter contract dispute at the Export Grain Terminal, or EGT, in Longview, Wash.
August: Contract talks begin between the longshore union and a group of four companies owning six Northwest terminals that compete with EGT. The employers want the same deal EGT got to cut labor costs.
Sept. 30: Grain-terminal contract expires, union members keep working at the terminals in Portland, Vancouver and the Puget Sound. Talks continue.
Oct. 15: Federal mediator is called in.
Nov. 16: Terminal owners make "last, best and final" offer.
Nov. 28: Offer deadline extended.
Dec. 8: Deadline extended again.
Dec. 11-12: Federal mediators convene further last-ditch talks.
Dec. 17: One coalition company, Temco, defects from the employers' group without explanation. The other three reject a union offer and say they're done talking.

Friday, Saturday: Members of four Northwest locals vote on the employers' "final" offer, which union negotiators oppose. Results have not been announced.

Monday: Employers have set a noon deadline to hear the union's verdict. The terminal owners, who have replacement workers and tugboats standing by, have not yet said whether or when they'll lock out longshoremen.
If Columbia Grain Inc., United Grain Corp. and Louis Dreyfus Commodities lock out dockworkers, Portland will become the new front line in a war between unions and a shadowy industry of strikebreaking companies that send tough guys across picket lines.

Confrontations can last months and turn violent.

But with billions of dollars of grain exports at stake, President Barack Obama could intervene, as President George W. Bush did in 2002, when he invoked the Taft-Hartley law to send West Coast longshoremen back to work.
One thing that probably won't happen, according to a national expert on lockouts and strikes, is permanent replacement of dockworkers, given labor laws and the tightknit, tenacious nature of the San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

"The companies would be subject to picketing constantly, and these folks would never go away," said Michael LeRoy, a University of Illinois labor law professor. Longshore workers, he said, "can be aggressive about asserting their rights."

Longshoremen displayed that resolve last year when some were arrested for trying to block a train from entering a grain terminal in Longview, Wash. They showed it last summer, slowing Port of Portland operations in pursuit of jobs, and again in Portland and Los Angeles by making employers provide job security for guards and clerks.
Before dawn Friday, longshoremen began pulling up in large pickups at Portland's Local 8, and at other union halls in Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma, to vote on the companies' "last, best and final" contract offer.

The companies want concessions similar to those the union made at a competing Longview grain terminal, saving the elevator millions of dollars in labor costs. But a "no" vote is all but certain, given the union bargaining team's unanimous thumbs-down recommendation.

Joined: 31-12-10
Dec 23 2012 20:49
The companies want concessions similar to those the union made at a competing Longview grain terminal, saving the elevator millions of dollars in labor costs.

I'd like to show that to all the excited Occupiers talking about how "we helped them win!" Definitely interesting that one of the companies left the employer's group. Seems like good news anyway, but I suppose we'll see.

Between this and the potential of an East coast wide strike by the ILA (International Longshoremen's Association), things might be pretty interesting on the waterfronts in the coming months.

fnbrill's picture
Joined: 13-01-07
Dec 23 2012 23:53

Portland/Columbia River ports are the largest outlet for US wheat and soy exports to Asia. Any sustained problems with grain export would have implications for Asian food supplies.

Joined: 15-04-06
Dec 28 2012 02:33
Northwest longshoremen cave in to grain terminal owners? Not so fast.

By Richard Read, The Oregonian The Oregonian
on December 26, 2012 at 7:15 PM, updated December 26, 2012 at 9:49 PM Print

Three heavily guarded tugboats staffed by non-union crews stand by on the Willamette River, ready to dock grain vessels in the event of a lockout.
Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian The longshore union appeared to cave in Wednesday, agreeing members would begin working at Northwest grain terminals Thursday on terms they just resoundingly rejected.
But labor lawyers say the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is actually playing it smart. If longshoremen called a strike now, refusing to accede to terms they abhor, the employers could permanently replace workers or even call a vote to eject the union.

Instead, lawyers expect the union to file a federal unfair labor practice charge, accusing terminal owners of breaking the law by forcing new terms on longshoremen before contract talks reached an impasse.

Continuing coverage of the contract negotiations between longshoremen and Northwest grain terminal operators."Tactically they're better off staying on the job and then challenging this before the National Labor Relations Board," said Michael LeRoy, a University of Illinois labor law professor. "They would play into the employers' hands if they went out on strike."
Therefore both sides stopped short of a waterfront abyss Wednesday. Terminal owners refrained from a widely expected lockout of longshoremen and the union chose not to strike.

The result is an odd limbo, in which longshoremen submit to working conditions in a contract offer that almost 94 percent of union members casting ballots voted down Friday and Saturday. And employers, who have replacement workers and tugboats standing by at considerable expense, force temporary concessions and brace for legal battles.

The standoff involves four, or perhaps six, of nine Northwest grain terminals that handle a quarter of the nation's grain exports.

Cargill, one of the four terminal owners, has inexplicably gone missing from the employers' coalition. Mark Klein, a Cargill spokesman, did not say Wednesday whether longshoremen at Temco terminals in Portland and Tacoma would continue working under provisions of a contract that expired Sept. 30 or submit to the new terms.

The remaining three coalition members -- Columbia Grain Inc., United Grain Corp. and Louis Dreyfus Commodities -- issued an announcement Wednesday saying that at 6 a.m. Thursday, they would unilaterally implement most terms of their "last, best and final" contract offer.

"This is not a lockout," said the statement from the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association. "The companies informed the union that ILWU members are welcome to come to work under the new terms and conditions of employment."

That contract offer slashes longshore rights and perks, saving millions of dollars in labor expenses by bringing working conditions in line with an agreement at a competing terminal in Longview, Wash. Union members were arrested during violent protests in Longview earlier this year before making the concessions in that contract.

In response Wednesday, Jennifer Sargent, a longshore union spokeswoman, said officials were reviewing a letter from an employers' lawyer laying out terms.

"The men and women of the ILWU have been exporting grain from these Northwest elevators since 1934 and intend to continue working despite the substandard provisions of the employer's last offer," Sargent said in a written statement. "We are reviewing the multinational employer's letter and we're disappointed that they haven't accepted the union's invitation to continue negotiating to reach a fair agreement with local workers."

While seeking further talks, the union can conduct so-called informational picketing, perhaps in Salem or at the offices of an employer. The union can also try to persuade the National Labor Relations Board to find the employers declared an impasse prematurely.

With that finding, LeRoy said, the employers would be liable to pay longshoremen the difference between the two contracts. Moreover the union could call an unfair-labor-practice strike, meaning employers couldn't permanently replace workers as they can in regular economic strikes.

But that process could wind on for months. And regional NLRB attorneys in Seattle have little patience with longshoremen after clashes over a union dispute at the Port of Portland last summer.

Striking now would give the employers authority to permanently replace workers, LeRoy said. He said the grain terminals could also call a vote by strikers and replacement workers to get rid of the union, influencing the outcome by hiring more replacements.

While the union has precluded those options for the owners, the employers are on guard for sabotage, slowdowns or other illegal disruptions at the grain elevators in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, where longshoremen could seek grounds for additional unfair labor practices charges.

"The employers' last, best and final contract offer may be revised to reflect the additional costs caused by any such union activity," said Wednesday's letter from lawyer Glen McClendon, who represents the terminal owners.

-- Richard Read twitter: ReadOregonian

Joined: 15-04-06
Jan 27 2013 15:55

Anything new on this from PNW comrades?