Japanese grain lockout in Pacific Northwest: Members of Congress ask U.S. Trade Representative to help resolve dispute during TPP negotiations

VANCOUVER, WA (October 1, 2013) – Several members of Congress have asked U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to use the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement talks to help resolve the months-long lockout of ILWU grain workers in the Pacific Northwest by two Japanese grain conglomerates. The U.S. government is one of 12 member nations meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate a free trade agreement that the Obama Administration hopes will be finalized by the end of the year.

In a letter dated September 30, 2013, the Congressional delegates wrote, “The continued intransigence by Marubeni and Mitsui is placing great stress on workers dependent on these facilities for their livelihoods. The lockout is negatively affecting wheat and grain farmers in the Pacific Northwest and other states that depend on grain export terminals.”

The letter is signed by six members of Congress, all from Washington State: Jim McDermott, Adam Smith, Rick Larsen, Suzan DelBene, Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer.

The current round of TPP negotiations began today in Bali, Indonesia, and ends on Oct. 8. Chief negotiators, ministers and leaders from the 12 member nations aim to reach a basic agreement and pave the way for concluding a deal by the end of the year. The 12 countries involved in TPP negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Both grain corporations involved in the Northwest grain lockout are based in Japan. Mitsui owns United Grain in Vancouver, Wash., which locked out members of ILWU Local 4 on February 27, and Marubeni owns Columbia Grain in Portland, which locked out members of ILWU Local 8 on May 4. Netherlands-based Louis Dreyfus Commodities owns additional elevators in the Northwest which are under refurbishment and not currently operating, and U.S.-based TEMCO, a joint venture of Cargill and CHS, reached an agreement with ILWU workers in February.

“Mitsui and Marubeni forced workers to work under a concessionary contract that had been rejected by a 94% union membership vote, and locked out hundreds of American workers beginning in February and May at their two U.S. facilities,” the letter states. “Cargill/CHS continued to negotiate with the ILWU and reached a fair contract with the union that was ratified in February that protects good American jobs.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has represented workers in all Northwest grain export terminals since 1934.

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