ILWU 21: ‘We’re all going to jail as a union’
UPDATE (July 20): The Daily News reports — Unionized operating engineers say they will take 25 to 35 jobs at the EGT Development grain terminal, sparking a possible battle with union longshoremen who say the jobs should be theirs. IUOE 701 Business Manager Mark Holliday: “Local 701′s members are trained to operate and maintain the EGT facility.” ILWU, which has worked at all West Coast grain terminals since 1934, has argued the jobs should go to its Longview-based Local 21 under terms of its contract with the Port of Longview. An ILWU spokeswoman said the union was disappointed to see the union operating engineers acting “in collusion” with EGT and General Construction Co.
UPDATE (July 19): The Daily News reports — Local ILWU dock workers will continue to fight to work at the EGT Development grain terminal at the Port of Longview despite the company’s weekend announcement that it’s hiring a Federal Way union contractor. EGT announced Sunday that it hired a union contractor to employ about 25 to 35 workers. The company would likely hire from the IUOE.
UPDATE (July 18): The Daily News reports — In a move that “stunned” the local longshore leadership, EGT Development announced it will hire a union contractor to staff 25 to 35 jobs at its terminal. Federal Way-based General Construction Co., a subsidiary of Kiewit, which hires workers through the International Union of Operating Engineers, will start working at the terminal this week, EGT says.
By David Groves
LONGVIEW (July 15) — The biggest labor dispute in Washington state — spawning one of the more militant union campaigns in decades — is happening right here, right now. About 100 union members were cited and arrested earlier this week in Longview, and yesterday hundreds more crowded onto railroad tracks to block a mile-long train.
Here’s what’s going on.
EGT Development, a joint venture of Japan-based Itochu Corp, South Korea’s STX Pan Ocean and St. Louis-based Bunge North America, is using non-union labor to handle grain in the testing phase of its new $200 million facility at the Port of Longview. All other grain export terminals from the Columbia River to the Puget Sound have successfully and profitably worked with unionized labor for decades.
Talks between EGT executives and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21, which has a contract for all longshore work on Port property, about becoming signatory to the area standard contract broke down months ago and the company has refused to return to the table. Instead, EGT has sued the Port in federal court, arguing that the company was not bound by the contract with Local 21 to hire union labor on its leased site. The company claims that keeping the facility’s 50 full-time workers non-union will save EGT $1 million a year.
Now, after months of picketing and attempts to pressure EGT to return to the table, the ILWU members are angry.
“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.”
And go to jail they did. At a July 11 protest, 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. It was the latest of four large-scale demonstrations the ILWU has held in the last two months. On June 3, more than 1,000 ILWU supporters from Washington to California rallied outside EGT’s headquarters in downtown Portland. The protests have all been loud, but nonviolent.
Yesterday (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 reports 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.
“Union longshore workers have made the Northwest one of the most productive grain exporting regions in the world,” Coffman said. “This new grain terminal stands to gain by playing by the same rules as the other grain operators that are making lots of money with productive union workers.”
From the start, EGT has been trying to run its new facility on the cheap. Despite high unemployment in Cowlitz County and the availability of hundreds of skilled union building trades workers, the Northwest Labor Press reports that EGT imported the vast majority of its construction crews from low-wage communities out-of-state and did not pay area standard wages.
To make matters worse, Washington taxpayers subsidized EGT’s construction of the terminal. Operators of grain elevators like EGT get a special state tax exemption entitling them to a “remittance equal to one hundred percent of the amount of tax paid for qualifying construction, materials, service, and labor.”
So, 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.
“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.”
Stay tuned to The Stand for updates on this dispute and for information about what you can do to support the ILWU 21 members in their struggle to maintain standards at the Port of Longview.
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