ILWU Local 21 members at the Port of Longview have gained coast- wise solidarity as they’ve raised the stakes in the ongoing dispute with EGT Development, a multinational grain exporter who is trying to interfere with longtime union jurisdiction that’s made the Pacific Northwest one of the most productive grain export regions in the world.
More than 100 ILWU members and supporters organized a picket line on July 21 that forced EGT to temporarily shut down their $200 million grain terminal at the Port of Longview. On July 25, EGT reopened the terminal using scab labor that was escorted by police across picket lines, resulting in seven arrests. As The Dispatcher was going to press, grain shipments to the terminal remained suspended by the BNSF railroad.
Opening with scab labor
Export Grain Terminal (EGT) began using non-union labor in July for the testing phase of its new $200 million Longview facility, despite a contract with the Port of Longview that says it must hire Local 21 members to do the work. EGT is a joint venture of Japan-based Itochu Corp, South Korea’s STX Pan Ocean and Bunge North America. Bunge alone raked in profits of $2.5 billion last year.
In an effort to circumvent the Port of Longview’s contractual obli- gation to hire ILWU members, EGT announced plans on July 17 to hire an outside contractor that would employ members of the Operating Engineers Local 701. This collu- sion by Local 701 with EGT sparked widespread criticism from all seg- ments of the labor movement includ- ing the area’s Building Trades. A local official of the Operating Engineers even expressed concern about Local 701’s behavior.
ILWU Locals and their sup- porters around the world have been closely watching EGT’s hostile tactics in Longview. On June 3rd, longshore- men from Southern California, North- ern California, the Oregon Area and the Puget Sound showed their support for Local 21 by arriving in busloads to a spirited rally that drew 1,200 union workers and their supporters to EGT’s headquarters in Portland. The rally sent a clear message that the entire West Coast was united behind Local 21, and that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
Putting a stop to scab labor
On July 11th, bolstered by support from fellow locals, Longview dock workers took it upon themselves to put a stop to scab work taking place on their waterfront. According to police, a chain link fence surrounding the new grain terminal was pulled down, and approximately 200 longshoremen entered the EGT facility. About 100 ILWU members were arrested and cited for trespassing at the nonviolent action.
Law enforcement singled out Union officers for harsher punishment: Jeff Smith, Local 8 (Portland) President, Brad Clark, Local 4 (Vancouver) President and Byron Jacobs, Local 21 Secretary-Treasurer, were targeted and charged with a misdemeanor “Obstruction of Law Enforcement.” The ILWU officers were arrested out- side of the facility and hauled off to a separate location for lengthier detainment. Since then, the charges have been dropped against everyone except Smith, Clark and Jacobs. The July 11th action was called “one of the boldest labor demonstrations in recent memory” by the local newspaper, and “by far the most intense labor event that I can remember” by the local sheriff. But the action got bigger from there.
Stopping a mile-long train
Two days later, on July 13th, approximately 600 Portland, Vancouver and Longview longshoremen responded when EGT tried to bring in 107 rail cars of grain in the middle of the night. Together the members formed a blockade more than 100 yards long on the tracks, harkening back to June of 1934 when longshoremen in Seattle blocked a train at Smith Cove during the union’s formation.
Much like they did during the waterfront strike of 1934, police stepped in on the side of capital against the workers. In 1934, 250 police officers brutally broke up the Smith Cove longshore protest with sticks, batons and tear gas. In 2011, the City of Longview brought in officers from multiple jurisdictions throughout Washington State, including Olympia and Vancouver, to monitor the longshoremen – essentially wasting taxpayer dollars to provide security for a private enterprise. This time, the longshoremen were effective in blocking the mile-long train from proceeding, and Burlington North- ern Santa Fe indefinitely suspended all rail traffic to the grain terminal for safety reasons.
“We are fighting for our jobs in our jurisdiction,” said ILWU 21 President Dan Coffman. “To have a rich multi- national corporation like EGT come in here and turn their backs on the local men and women who have worked these docks for 70 years so they can pocket a bigger profit is a problem.” Coffman said the ILWU members were united in this fight. “We are all stand- ing together as a union on this. We will go to jail as a union.”
EGT has refused to return to nego- tiations after contract talks with Local 21 broke down months ago. Instead of returning to the bargaining table, EGT is suing the Port of Longview in federal court to gain exemption from the area standards contract between Local 21 and the Port. EGT has stated it can save $1 million a year in operating costs by using non-union workers and not pay- ing area standard wages.
EGT fails the community
“This new grain terminal stands to gain by playing by the same rules as the other grain operators that are mak- ing lots of money with productive union workers,” Coffman said. The other grain exporters in the region have negotiated with the ILWU to create the Northwest- ern Grainhandlers’ Agreement, which covers safety, staffing and compensation.
EGT has been undercutting the wages of local workers on the project since the beginning. The company built the grain terminal using mostly out-of- area construction workers who were not paid area wages, despite the high unemployment in Cowlitz County and the availability of hundreds of skilled union building trades workers.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Wash- ington taxpayers subsidized EGT’s construction of the terminal. Under a special tax loophole, operators of grain elevators get a special state tax remittance for “one hundred percent of the amount of tax paid for qualify- ing construction, materials, service, and labor.” Port of Longview district taxpayers spent additional millions upgrading EGT’s dock.
Cowlitz County Deserves Better, a community group including long- shore workers, fishermen, business owners and others, placed a full-page ad in the local newspaper highlighting EGT’s failure to do right by the com- munity. The public’s response was so strong that the port director published a defensive editorial response, and the newspaper censored subsequent advertising on the issue.
“These are our folks”
The dockworkers struggle has drawn sympathy in the community, even among some law enforcement personnel who were called into to cite demonstrators who were engaged in civil disobedience.
“By far this is the most intense labor event that I can remember,” Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson told the Longview Daily News. “Bless their hearts. These are our neighbors, too. These are our folks. This is our community.”