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Fighting Over Grain

OPB | Sept. 9, 2011 9:25 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:36 p.m.

Hundreds of members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) stormed the Port of Longview early Thursday morning. They reportedly overpowered security guards, even holding some hostage for a short time, in order to sabotage rail cars, dumping loads of grain onto the ground.

The day before, members of the union held two protests along the rail route. They gathered with picket signs in Vancouver in the morning, blocking a train carrying a large shipment of corn bound for the new grain terminal at the Port of Longview. Later in the day, after the train was allowed to go through, a smaller group of protesters stopped it in Longview. After several arrests, the train shipment made it to the port.

These are just the latest battles in a long fight between the union and the company that owns the terminal. Protesters blocked another shipment earlier this summer and since then, EGT Development, which owns the grain terminal, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB challenged some of the union’s other tactics in court and won a federal restraining order to keep them from blocking access to the port. It’s unclear whether the Wednesday morning protest violated the restraining order, since it took place in Vancouver and not on port property.

This longstanding dispute stems from EGT’s stance that they’re not bound by ILWU’s contract with the Port of Longview to hire its members to staff the terminal. The ILWU claims it has a right to those jobs. After talks between EGT and ILWU broke down in January, the company hired a contractor to bring in workers from a different union: the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The situation has garnered national interest and it’s only going to get more heated, it seems, as harvest season ramps up on Washington’s bumper crop of wheat.

Are you a member of a union? Do you work in the grain export business? Does this dispute have implications for you?

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