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Tentative deal reached to end grain lockout

ILWU-logo-13VANCOUVER, Wash. (Aug. 13, 2014) — A tentative contract agreement covering Pacific Northwest grain terminals — and potentially ending the nearly 18-month lockout of grain workers by Mitsui-United Grain in Vancouver — was reached late Monday night by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and area grain terminal operators.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service first announced the deal early Tuesday morning, calling it “an amazing achievement:”

After engaging in difficult and contentious bargaining for over two years, including multiple marathon mediation sessions held under the auspices of the FMCS, the announcement of the tentative agreement, subject to the ratification of ILWU membership, represents an amazing achievement of a potentially positive outcome in a labor dispute that has gained national attention. The ILWU, with its recommendation, will submit the tentative agreement to its members for ratification.

“The membership of each local will review the tentative agreement and vote according to their internal rules, with results to be announced August 25,” the ILWU announced Tuesday afternoon. “Terms of the agreement will not be made public until members have a chance to review and vote on the tentative agreement which covers Mitsui-United Grain (UGC) in Vancouver, Marubeni-Columbia Grain in Portland, and Louis Dreyfus in Portland and Seattle.”

ILWU-United-Grain-lockoutThe union says “reduced picket lines” will remain at Mitsui-UGC while members vote on the agreement, but The Columbian reports today that Gov. Jay Inslee immediately ordered state grain inspectors to resume their work there and they entered the Vancouver facility on Tuesday for the first time since he withdrew their Washington State Patrol escorts last month.

The governor’s move and the threat that the Vancouver terminal would not be able to operate at full capacity with the looming grain harvest appeared to reignite contract talks in recent weeks. The withdrawal of taxpayer-funded escorts for grain inspectors was criticized by some conservative officials and newspapers, but it “rightfully put the state in a neutral position regarding this management dispute,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“I thank the Pacific Northwest Grain Companies and ILWU for coming back to the table in time to ensure export shipments will allow our growers to ship their world-class grain products in time for peak harvest,” Inslee said in a statement released Tuesday. “And I also want to acknowledge the ongoing professionalism of Agriculture Director Bud Hover and his state grain inspectors during these difficult times. Though this has been a challenging time for everyone involved, I’m proud of their hard work and commitment to serving our growers and supporting one of Washington’s top industries.”

State Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) told The Columbian that he, too, was pleased “cooler heads prevailed.”

The tentative agreement at Pacific Northwest grain terminals affects members of five ILWU local unions: Local 4 in Vancouver, Local 8 in Portland, Local 19 in Seattle, and Local 21 in Longview, and Local 92 in Portland.

Nearly 50 ILWU members in Vancouver have been lockout out of their jobs since Feb. 27, 2013. Mitsui-United Grain claimed it was initiating the lockout because an angry union employee “sabotaged” company equipment and it had security camera evidence. The union immediately claimed that the lockout was planned, that Mitsui had already solicited the services of replacement workers and tugboats, and the company had just been looking for an excuse to impose it.

County prosecutors never filed charges for the alleged “sabotage” due to lack of evidence, but the company insisted it happened and that it merited locking out all ILWU Local 4 members from their jobs for the nearly 18 months since.

► Also see, in today’s Columbian — Tentative agreement in NW grain terminal dispute — A bitter two-year labor dispute that engulfed everyone from Vancouver police and Washington’s governor to state and federal agriculture officials may have ended, as the ILWU and Northwest grain terminal operators have reached a tentative contract agreement.

► Also in today’s Columbian — Inslee, Leavitt, others praise tentative grain terminals-union deal — State grain inspectors entered United Grain Corp.’s Vancouver facility Tuesday afternoon for the first time since refusing to cross the picket lines out of fear for their safety. Gov. Jay Inslee, who had decided to no longer allow Washington State Patrol officers to escort grain inspectors through picket lines, said the prospect of a new contract was “outstanding news.” In pulling the escorts, the governor said it was clear after eight months of police presence, “keeping WSP escorts in place was not leading to productive negotiations, as intended.”

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