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Ports go silent as ILWU president surrenders to Cowlitz cops

The following news release was distributed Monday by the ILWU:

LONGVIEW (Sept. 26) — Robert McEllrath, President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, added his voice to the growing chorus calling for an end to police brutality and harassment in Longview by surrendering himself today at 11 a.m. to authorities, Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson and Prosecuting Attorney Susan Baur, at the Cowlitz County Hall of Justice in Kelso.

McEllrath waited about 20 minutes and was cited on misdemeanor charges of trespassing in the second degree and blocking or delaying a train, both related to a protest in rural Cowlitz County on Sept. 7. He was released after being cited.

The show of solidarity from East and West Coast dockworkers was strong. All machinery and equipment in West Coast ports stopped for 15 minutes as McEllrath turned himself in, and the presidents of the local unions at the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Vancouver accompanied him through the front door of the Hall of Justice. Also with McEllrath were two representatives from the International Longshoremen’s Association, including its International Vice President, Ken Riley.

“Longshore workers stood down in silence today to express their anger about Cowlitz County law enforcement’s unfair treatment of our international president,” said Leal Sundet, ILWU Coast Committeeman.

By surrendering today, McEllrath follows in the footsteps of the 200 ILWU Local 21 members who attempted to turn themselves in at the Cowlitz County Hall of Justice on September 16, only to have their offer ignored and be ambushed by law enforcement in the following days. The ILWU filed a civil rights lawsuit on September 22, alleging harsh tactics and retaliation on the part of Longview Police and the Sheriff’s Department. McEllrath had been advised by his attorney, Tom Phelan, that there was a warrant for his arrest, and Phelan accompanied McEllrath to the courthouse.

“Today I’m standing with Longview’s longshore workers and their supporters who have been harshly punished for standing up to multinational bully EGT,” said McEllrath, a Vancouver longshore worker who was elected as ILWU International President in 2006 and re-elected in 2009. “Sheriff Mark Nelson needs to start accepting our offers to process arrests peacefully, and stop sending out multiple squad cars on Sundays to make over-the-top arrests and rack up the overtime costs. The Sheriff’s current program is totally unnecessary and clearly designed to intimidate and harass union members for exercising their free speech and associational rights.”

The ILWU, through its legal counsel, has made several attempts to arrange the orderly and peaceful arrests of anyone who may have an outstanding warrant due to the protest of EGT on rural Port of Longview property. Sheriff Mark Nelson has denied to the media that such attempts were made, though correspondence from Nelson to union counsel shows that the sheriff acknowledged and refused the union’s offer to make such arrangements.

About 135 longshore workers and their supporters have been arrested this summer in the struggle to stop EGT from violating its lease agreement with the Port of Longview in which the company committed to hire longshore workers. EGT is a multinational joint venture owned by three global companies: Bunge, which operates in more than 30 countries and profited $2.5 billion in 2010, Itochu from Japan and STX Pan Ocean from Korea.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents 50,000 men and women on the docks, in grain terminals and in other industries in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii. Union longshore workers have worked in all Northwest grain terminals for the past 80 years and recently reached a new tentative collective bargaining agreement with all of the other region’s grain export terminals after just three days of negotiations.

Also see — Here’s why Longshore workers in Longview are so angry (Sept. 8)


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