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Judge Tries To Calm Explosive Union Dispute

Simmering tensions between union members and owners of a new grain terminal boiled over in Longview this week. This prompted a federal judge late Thursday to reiterate an order restricting union activity, saying there’s no defense for aggressive tactics.

The union pointed out the judge’s preliminary injunction still allows for picketing.

Grain was dumped from train cars. - Courtesy of Matthew Beck, EGT.

Police arrested 19 people, Wednesday, as they tried to block a grain shipment to EGT’s Longview terminal. Then early Thursday, police say hundreds of union members and supporters trashed a guard shack, damaged a security vehicle, and dumped grain out of boxcars.

Longview police chief Jim Duscha says a handful of on-site security guards feared for their safety.

“For some reason, for at least probably around two hours, they didn’t feel free to leave. Their windows are being broken out of their guard shack, their car has been tossed into a ditch. I don’t know if Longshoremen were just telling them they couldn’t go or what, but at some point in time, the Longshoremen – they were still there – they allowed the guards to leave,” Duscha said.

Rob Manning / OPB
Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha

Port officials around the Northwest suspect Longshore members skipped work to join the actions in Longview — causing delays in ports such as Portland and Seattle.

The Longshore union says EGT is violating its lease with the port by hiring non-Longshore workers to run the new grain terminal. The legal question is pending in court. In the meantime, EGT has found other workers to run the terminal.

At the union hall in downtown Longview, members declined to answer questions.

Martha Gherman was doing business at a credit union next door. Her father is a retired Longshoreman. She supports the union.

“I think they got to handle it a different way, but I mean I understand their frustration,” she said.

The company in the middle of the conflict, EGT, declined to answer questions. Company spokesman Matthew Beck read a prepared statement.

“The ILWU is thumbing its nose at the laws of the United States and our legal system. Issues between EGT, the Port of Longview, and the ILWU should be resolved peacefully in a court of law,” Beck said.

The labor conflict has already sparked at least two court cases. One involves the union’s rights under the port lease. Another resulted from union protests in July and August.

Cowlitz County sheriffs are still collecting evidence in what could lead to another case focused on what happened at the port Thursday.

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