ILWU Pres. McEllrath: ‘Prepare to take action when EGT vessel arrives’

January 3, 2012

To: All Longshore, Clerk, and Walking Boss/Foreman Locals

Brothers and Sisters:

We are currently engaged in a labor dispute with one of our employers, EGT, in the Pacific Northwest. EGT continues to refuse to return to the negotiating table with Local 21 after walking away from nearly two years of direct contract negotiations over the terms of employment for the longshore workers that EGT would be employing at its new facility in the very location on public port property that longshore workers have been
performing longshore work for decades.

We believe that at some point this month a vessel will call at the EGT facility in Longview, Washington. We have been told that this vessel will be escorted by armed United States Coast Guard, including the use of small vessels and helicopters, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the EGT facility and that the facility itself will be protected by a full complement of local law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions.

The purpose of this letter is to inform and prepare the Longshore Division locals for the action that we will take when that vessel calls at EGT’s facility.

Locals need to be aware of the narrow path that we must cut through a federal labor law (the Taft-Hartley Act) that criminalizes worker solidarity, outlaws labor’s most effective tools, and protects commerce while severely restricting unions. Because Local 21’s labor dispute is with EGT, federal labor law entitles the Local to conduct picketing and other collective actions directed at EGT. Further, while the NLRB, which administers Taft-Hartley, sought and received an injunction in federal court on behalf of EGT against the ILWU and its members, the federal court denied the NLRB’s motion to ban picketing at the EGT facility in Longview, preserving our First Amendment rights to peacefully picket the company.

The NLRB is currently seeking a second injunction, this time on behalf of PMA, on the theory that any disruption of work by the ILWU on the West Coast docks at the same time that the Union is protesting EGT constitutes a violation of Taft-Hartley. However, we have no dispute with PMA or its member companies. Thus, any showing of support for Local 21 at the time that a vessel calls at the EGT facility must be measured to ensure that the West Coast ports have sufficient manpower so as not to impact cargo movement for PMA member companies. A call for a protest of EGT is not a call for a shutdown of West Coast ports and must not result in one.

In addition, be aware that officers, rank and file, and union supporters have been aggressively arrested or summoned to court by the hundreds for demonstrating against EGT. We were also falsely accused of
hostage taking by a local police chief and subject to numerous other false characterizations as criminals and thugs. We are now being methodically and maliciously prosecuted for exercising our free speech rights, prosecution designed to lead to jail time, prohibition on future lawful picketing, and permanent criminal records. In essence, the company that promised good local jobs and then outsourced them is being protected by law enforcement, which means that middle class taxpayer dollars are subsidizing union busting multinational corporate giant EGT’s fight against the ILWU and Longview’s working community.

The goal of any demonstration that takes place corresponding with the arrival of a vessel will be designed to send the following message to EGT and local and federal law enforcement: EGT is threatening the stability of the local community and the Pacific Northwest grain export industry; and law enforcements’ collusion with EGT is destroying the public’s trust.

When the time comes, the International Officers and the Coast Committee will communicate with the Longshore Division locals and publicize action that supporters of the ILWU can take to advance the cause against EGT and protest government collusion to protect commerce at the expense of workers and community. We fully understand that the ILWU’s labor dispute with EGT is symbolic of what is wrong in the United States today.
Corporations, no matter how harmful the conduct to society, enjoy full state and federal protection while workers and the middle class get treated as criminals for trying to protect their jobs and communities. However, please take extreme caution when dealing with supporters of non-ILWU sanctioned calls to action relative to EGT. Everything is at stake for the community of Longview and our members – including personal freedom. We welcome outside support for our efforts against EGT but must make effective use of collective power.

We will communicate with the locals as to the estimated time of the arrival of the vessel.

In Solidarity,
Robert McEllrath
International President

Download a copy of this statement here (PDF).

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