Longshore Workers Dump Scab Grain to Protect Jobs

 

Longshore Workers Dump Scab Grain to Protect Jobs

By Evan Rohar, Jane Slaughter
Labor Notes

The confrontation between West Coast longshore workers and an anti-union exporter exploded as pickets massed on railroad tracks by the hundreds yesterday to block grain shipments.

Police used clubs and pepper spray on protesters in Longview, Washington, as they made 19 arrests.

Early this morning a terminal there was invaded and hoppers holding about 10,000 tons of grain were opened onto railroad tracks.

Ports in Washington shut down completely Thursday as hundreds of longshore workers rushed to Longview, in the state’s southwestern corner.

Bill Proctor, a Longshore Union (ILWU) retiree, was with fellow retirees and active workers on an early morning picket line at a Seattle grain terminal. He said,

“If that facility is allowed to go non-ILWU, other facilities will be tempted to follow suit. And the grain terminals on the coast are all going into contract bargaining next month.”

A foreman came out to politely assure the picketers that no one would do their work.

EGT Development, a consortium of three companies, wants to operate its new $200 million grain terminal in Longview using non-ILWU labor, despite a contract with the port requiring it to do so. When the ILWU protested, the company signed up with an Operating Engineers local.

Every other major grain terminal on the West Coast is operated by ILWU labor, and the union asserts that EGT’s goal is to go non-union altogether, ending generations of good jobs.
Defied Restraining Order

In a series of protests since July, ILWU members and supporters sat down on train tracks and occupied the new terminal, resulting in 100 arrests. As picketing continued, no trains had attempted to bring in grain shipments since July. But last week a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order at the request of the National Labor Relations Board, which said ILWU pickets had harassed EGT workers.

Once the restraining order was in place, the BNSF railroad decided to try once more to ship grain. Justin Hirsch, a Seattle longshore worker, said grain terminals are major customers for the rail companies, who might move 500 trains a year through a terminal.

Pickets in Vancouver, Washington, 40 miles from Longview, delayed the BNSF train yesterday morning, until police cleared protesters away.

ILWU President Bob McEllrath was detained by police as longshore workers massed on railroad tracks to stop a shipment of grain to a non-ILWU terminal (Photo: Dawn DesBrisay).That afternoon, hundreds of port workers stood on railroad tracks at Longview to block the mile-long train. Nineteen were arrested and ILWU national president Bob McEllrath was detained briefly—as talk spread up the coast that police had broken McEllrath’s arm. Riot police used clubs and pepper spray on some protesters.

 

Union officers eventually urged the blockaders to let the train through. But while it sat overnight inside the terminal gates, the word went out. Workers in Seattle left their jobs before the shift ended. Proctor reported that members of Local 19 gathered at 2 a.m. to head the two-and-a-half hours to Longview.

“Overnight people started flooding into Longview,” said Hirsch.

AP reported that before dawn, 500 people broke down terminal gates, prevented security guards from interfering, and cut the train’s brake lines.

Noting that a train could hold 107 carloads, Hirsch said the mess on the tracks would be “time-consuming to clean up” and noted “somebody’s not getting paid.”

Proctor said,

“This struggle is central to our future because grain work accounts for 20 percent of the financing of our pension and welfare funds.”

Not the First Time

Longshore workers have a history of militant action to defend their jobs. In the 1980s a company called Pier Q tried to use non-union labor to move lumber through the small port of Vancouver, Washington. ILWU members organized a rally at the port, drawing longshore workers from as far away as Los Angeles. International President Jimmy Herman spoke to a crowd of 2,000 or 3,000 assembled in a warehouse, recalled Doug Rollins, now a clerk at the Port of Tacoma.

The crowd marched out and surrounded the terminal, and longshore workers with wire cutters ran toward the lumber bundles sitting on the pier.

“Every time you cut the bands off the lumber, the bundle would just explode and it would be like toothpicks shooting up in the air and coming down in a big pile,”

said Rollins. Ten minutes after the start of the action, millions of board feet of lumber covered the terminal.

Rollins reported that a policeman asked Herman who led the action.

“I don’t know, we don’t know,” Herman said.

The international president was there, but the ranks were in charge, Rollins said. Since there were too many workers to arrest, the police stood by and watched as the thousands dispersed and went home.
Will It Restrain?

The restraining order, issued by a federal judge, lasts 10 days. Both sides are back in court today, when the judge will decide if the order should be made permanent.

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said,

“There is no formal action at either the local or International level, but large numbers of individuals appear to have taken action on their own.”

He stressed that no arrests were made at this morning’s action and called the AP’s report of security guards taken hostage “ridiculous.”

“When corporations and the government turn their backs on working families,” Merrilees said,

“it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see people step forward and try to fight back.”

Ports in Tacoma and Seattle are closed today, though the international said no job action has been called. One worker said work would resume at 3 a.m. Friday—unless it doesn’t.

 

Evan Rohar is a former casual worker at the Port of Tacoma. He begins work at Labor Notes on Monday.

Source: Labor Notes

 

 

 

Longshore Workers Block Train, Occupy Terminal

By Evan Rohar, Mischa Gaus
Labor Notes

Hundreds of West Coast longshore workers blocked a train in July and more than a hundred have been arrested in a remarkable campaign of civil disobedience. They seek to prevent an anti-union company from moving grain through a Columbia River port.

EGT Development wants to operate its new $200 million facility in Longview, Washington, using non-longshore labor. It’s the first new grain export terminal built in the Pacific Northwest in almost 30 years, and the first since 1936 that’s attempted to operate without the Longshore union (ILWU).

North American corn, wheat, and soybeans, stored in dockside elevators, will be loaded onto boats at Longview, destined for booming Asian countries.

Revving up for July actions at the worksite, 1,000 Longshore union members from up and down the West Coast rallied June 3 at EGT headquarters in Portland, Oregon. They are determined to prevent the anti-union company from moving grain without their members (Photo: ILWU).A series of vigorous protests by ILWU Local 21 have confronted EGT, an amalgam of a Japanese company, a Korean shipper, and the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant Bunge North America, which earned a $2.5 billion profit last year.

Members have used a pickup truck to tear down a fence and then occupy the grain terminal. About 100 union members, including leaders, were arrested for criminal trespassing.

Dan Coffman, Local 21 president, called the blockade a “wildcat.”

The day his members saw grain pouring out of a train, during the terminal’s testing phase, he said,

“They went nuts.”

Members of Local 21 joined with 600 community supporters and other longshore workers from throughout the Northwest after midnight on July 11 to flood the train tracks into the port with protesters. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe turned away its mile-long grain-filled train and has suspended train traffic to the terminal since that date.

Two weeks later, a protester in a hang-glider flew over the port to drop leaflets.

Animated picket lines have confronted non-ILWU workers on their way into the port, leading to seven more arrests. Round-the-clock picket lines maintain a presence at the terminal’s gate, although the local has halted its attempts to block EGT workers.

The local has enjoyed good relations with the county sheriff, who told the local paper,

“Bless their hearts. These are our neighbors.”

EGT started the fight by suing the Port of Longview to void the stipulation in its lease that requires EGT to hire Local 21 members. The union and the port are jointly seeking a summary judgment from a judge in September to tell EGT to abide by the contract.

But leaders aren’t placing their bets on the lawsuit, which is before a Bush-appointed federal judge. Court proceedings could drag on for years. The battle will be won in the streets and in the community, Coffman said.

“Labor has always faced this—the laws and rules were made for them, not us,” he added.

Cynical

Besides inviting the community to its rallies, the local has distributed hundreds of signs that sit in the windows of local businesses and on lawns throughout town.

“People remember that we gave $33,000 to the women’s shelter last year,” Coffman said.

“They know we sponsored the Little League. They know who lives here and supports this community.”

In the meantime, EGT has broken off negotiations with the ILWU and is running tests of its terminal ahead of the busy fall harvest—as if it had already won the lawsuit.

“They have attempted to leverage the community and the unions in a very cynical way,”

said Lynne Dodson, secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council.

“They’re a bad seed.”

At stake for 200-member Local 21 are about 50 jobs and a foot in the door for other union-busters.

“This is a fight for collective bargaining rights. If this goes the way EGT wants it to go, all the other elevators are going to want the same deal,” Coffman said.

The union initially negotiated with EGT but refused a demand that members work 12-hour shifts at straight-time pay. The company claimed it would cost $1 million more annually to run the terminal with ILWU labor, but has since admitted the figure was concocted.

EGT then expressed interest in operating non-union but instead contracted the work to a company organized by Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 701, just across the border in Oregon. In a news release, IUOE expressed no aversion to raiding another union’s jobs.

But the president of the Tacoma, Washington-based IUOE local told Longview’s Daily News that the EGT terminal is out of his jurisdiction, and his local would not take other unions’ work.

The Oregon state labor council “strongly condemned” Local 701, and Washington’s state council backed ILWU in its fight to achieve recognition from EGT.

Nelda Wilson, assistant to the business manager of Local 701, told the Northwest Labor Press that IUOE wasn’t able to tell its side of the story.

“It’s a very complicated issue, and there is a lot of disinformation going around,” Wilson said.

“There is a legal process that has to wind its way through the courts. I think we all need to calm down and allow time to sort out the facts here.”

“This is much bigger than Longview,”

said Scott Mason, president of ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma. He added that no one should be fooled by the

“ruse [EGT is] putting on, saying they got another union in there. It’s a mask to hide their ultimate goal to have no union.”

Homegrown protest

EGT sold the project to Longview based on the benefits it would provide the community: 200 jobs for two years of construction, and 50 union jobs at the elevator.

The employment bump was smaller than expected, but the project still represented the community’s biggest development in years. With bigger belts and faster pouring, Coffman says, the new terminal would trim the workforce by 40 percent compared to similar grain elevators.

But the company imported out-of-state workers and disregarded the port’s Project Labor Agreement from day one, Dodson said. License plates from right-to-work states appeared in the parking lot, and 150 workers from Guatemala were brought in to pour cement.

Coffman says the ILWU urged the Operating Engineers and other building trades workers to “do what they needed to” in order to force EGT to respect the agreement and hire union construction workers from the community. The trades declined, he said.

Coffman noted that his local had honored Local 701’s picket line in 2006 when the Operating Engineers protested the use of non-union crane operators. The IUOE won the work the next day.

Legal or not

In the ILWU’s eyes, EGT’s actions amount to a declaration of war. Success for the company would create an opening for other employers to hire outside the union. Every other major grain terminal on the West Coast is under ILWU contract.

EGT is breaking its contract in order to avoid Longshore labor—yet Local 21 must turn to civil disobedience to protect its members’ jobs.

Dockers on the East Coast have had to use aggressive action to defend their jobs, too. Longshore workers shut the mammoth New York-New Jersey port for two days last September, honoring a picket line erected by Longshoremen (ILA) from Philadelphia. The Philly dockers brought the picket line to New York and Baltimore to protest the Del Monte fruit company’s decision to move its banana-and-pineapple importing operation to a non-ILA pier.

Asked how the ILWU decided on the militant tactics, Mason said,

“Tearing a fence down to throw a scab out, that doesn’t sound very militant to me. It might be militant by today’s standards, but maybe that’s because the politics of the country have changed so much.”

“Sometimes there are places trains shouldn’t be going, and people standing together are pretty effective at that,” Dodson said.

“There are a lot of last straws being reached right now. If you can undercut longstanding agreements and standards, where does it stop?”

More actions can be expected. Coffman said the ILWU will do whatever is necessary to make sure longshore jobs are preserved at all grain elevators in the Northwest.

 

Evan Rohar is a former casual worker at the Port of Tacoma.

Source: Labor Notes

 

 

Longshore Workers Thresh Grain Shipper, Block Train

By Evan Rohar
Labor Notes

Longshore workers by the hundreds blocked a mile-long train July 14 to prevent an anti-union company from moving grain through the port of Longview, Washington. EGT Development wants to operate its new $200 million facility using non-longshore labor.

The action is the third in a series of protests by Longshore Union (ILWU) Local 21. In one case, members used a pickup truck to tear down a fence and then occupied the grain terminal, blocking EGT employees from working. About 100 union members, including leaders, were arrested for criminal trespassing. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe has suspended train traffic to the terminal.

Members of Local 21 have been joined by longshore workers from throughout the Northwest, many of whom have taken off from their jobs to join the protests. Grain elevators exist at all the Northwest ports.

“This is much bigger than Longview,” said Scott Mason, president of ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma, Washington. “It’s about organized labor and not having a Wisconsin.”

EGT started the fight by suing the Port of Longview to void the stipulation in its lease that requires EGT to hire Local 21 members. The trial is set to begin next year and could drag on for years. In the meantime, EGT has broken off negotiations with the ILWU and is operating its terminal as if it had already won the case.

At stake for 200-member Local 21 are about 50 jobs and a foot in the door for union-busters. Initially, EGT expressed interest in hiring non-union labor but instead contracted the work to a company organized by Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 701, from Oregon. In a news release, IUOE expressed no aversion to raiding another union’s jobs. Local officials would not comment.

But the president of the Tacoma, Washington-based IOUE local told Longview’s Daily News that the EGT terminal is out of his jurisdiction, and his local would not take other unions’ work.

Mason warned that no one should be fooled by the

“ruse [EGT is] putting on, saying they got another union in there. It’s a mask to hide their ultimate goal to have no union.”

Small Port, Big Company

Though a small port, Longview is a gateway to the world for the Pacific Northwest’s sizable agricultural industry. The Daily News reports that EGT is owned by a Japanese company, a Korean shipper, and St. Louis-based Bunge North America, which earned a $2.5 billion profit last year. The company says it would cost $1 million more annually to run the terminal with ILWU labor.

Besides the company’s legal obligation to hire ILWU members, union workers argue for the benefits of the longshore dispatching system, which allows members to choose which job they want to perform each day. This flexibility eases the monotony of physical labor, which, some say, saves lives in one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Any breach of the union’s jurisdiction could damage that system.

In the ILWU’s eyes, EGT’s actions amount to a declaration of war; success for the company would create an opening for other employers to hire outside the union. Every other major grain terminal on the West Coast is under ILWU contract.

Local President Dan Coffman told reporters,

“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.”

So Local 21 is causing big problems for EGT, in an industry in which hours of delay can cost companies millions in revenue.

Asked how the ILWU decided on the militant tactics, Mason said,

“Tearing a fence down to throw a scab out, that doesn’t sound very militant to me. It might be militant by today’s standards, but maybe that’s because the politics of the country have changed so much.”

More actions can be expected. Mason said the ILWU will do whatever is necessary to make sure longshore jobs are preserved at all the grain elevators in the Northwest.
Legal or Not

It was an illegal job action similar to Local 21’s that created one of the only clear victories for labor in recent years. Members of the United Electrical Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago occupied their factory in December 2008. They won their legally guaranteed severance packages and inspired union activists across the country.

Similarly, EGT is bound by contract to use Longshore labor—yet Local 21 must turn to civil disobedience to protect its members’ jobs.

Dockers on the East Coast have had to use aggressive action to defend their jobs, too. Longshore workers shut the mammoth New York-New Jersey port for two days last September, honoring a picket line erected by members of the Longshoremen (ILA) from Philadelphia. They brought the picket line to New York and Baltimore to protest the Del Monte fruit company’s decision to move its banana-and-pineapple importing operation to a non-ILA pier.

Of course, most employer aggression against unions, such as Governor Scott Walker’s in Wisconsin, is entirely legal. The question remains whether unions can successfully use such bold tactics to resist employer attacks that have the blessing of the law.

Victories like the one at Republic and, one hopes, at EGT could show other unions how to disobey unjust labor laws. As Dr. King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail,

“There are two types of laws: just and unjust. One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

Maybe more unions should take a page out of civil rights movement history. Tear up Taft-Hartley and light up Landrum-Griffin. Workers protecting their jobs answer to a higher moral authority than the legislative bodies that squawk about trespassing laws.

 

Evan Rohar is a former casual worker at the Port of Tacoma.

Source:  Labor Notes

 

 

2 comments on “Longshore Workers Dump Scab Grain to Protect Jobs

  1. Dennis fillbrandt on said:

    IT MADE MY DAY, MY WEEK,MY MONTH,MY YEAR! I’m very proud to be an ILWU worker!#19

  2. Dady CheryDady Chery on said:

    Mine too! I’ve been rooting for you for along time. Thank you for standing up to EGT. You are true patriots. Congratulations Dennis!

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