Longview prepares for the long-haul

ILWU Local 21 members are continuing their fight for fairness at the EGT grain terminal in Longview, Washington, where the
high-stakes struggle continues to generate some dramatic twists and turns.

“The fight for justice in Longview involves a lot more than just our little town – it’s about corporate greed and the future
of America’s middle class,” said ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman.

  • Over 200 ILWU members have now been arrested, including International President Bob McEllrath who was charged on September 26, and Local 21 President Dan Coffman who was cuffed on September 21 along with a dozen local women. Most are charged with trespassing and blocking EGT grain trains.
  • Responding to complaints of police harassment and discrimination, The ILWU filed a lawsuit in federal court that charged local
    law enforcement officials with violating the civil rights of union members and supporters in Longview.
  • In response to the ILWU’s Civil Rights suit, the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s office finally took action against an EGT employee who assaulted two ILWU picketers with his Chevy Suburban on August 29th. Although the man was charged with two counts of felony hit-and-run driving (instead of felony assault with a deadly weapon), the prosecutor refused to have him arrestedlike so many union members who have been charged with minor offenses. Unlike union members, EGT’s violent driver was allowed to receive a summons in the mail for his violent attack on two workers. Law enforcement officials had refused for weeks to arrest the driver; instead deputies arrested union members who allegedly kicked the car driven by EGT’s employee who tried to run over picketers then fled the crime scene and went to work in the outlaw grain terminal.
  • A community rally on September 29 sponsored by Jobs With Justice attracted 1,000 supporters who gathered in front of the Longview City Hall. Concerned community members from throughout the Columbia River area and beyond
    joined with local small business owners and union supporters to show their solidarity.
  • On September 30, a federal judge imposed a $250,000 penalty on the ILWU, saying the union should reimburse EGT, local law enforcement and government attorneys for expenses he attributed to events on September 7and 8 when union members allegedly blocked trains and entered EGT’s facility on Port property. The ILWU is appealing the judge’s ruling and penalties.
  •  In a separate Federal Court ruling on October 7, the same judge rejected EGT’s motion for summary judgment and determined that EGT was “acutely aware of the (ILWU Local 21) Working Agreement, and of the Port’s (and ILWU’s) belief that it established union longshore jurisdiction over the property to be leased – both on the docks and on the land side of the facility.” While the ruling was positive, it was only one decision in an extensive legal battle.

The fight for good jobs at EGT seems to be entering a phase where legal and courtroom battles compete for attention with events on the ground. The announcement of the $250,000 penalty and threat of future fines attracted predictable media attention and fodder for anti-union outlets including Rush Limbaugh and Wall Street Journal editorial writers who are trying to use the Longview story to turn the public against unions.

Rough justice for workers

The September 30 court ruling against the ILWU by theFederal Court in Tacoma was not unexpected because federal labor laws generally favor business and commerce over workers and the community. ILWU Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet was quick to make that point when the court issued their ruling and he criticized the method used to arrive at the $250,000
penalty, explaining, “The judge took the NLRB’s proposed damage amount of nearly $300,000 and rounded
it down to $250,000 without any findings of fact or ruling on our evidentiary objections. This kind of ‘rough justice’ and imprecise decision-making is exactly what the law is supposed to prevent. But this court used back-of-the-napkin guestimates. There was also not even an attempt to determine which, if any events, were arguably connected to what the union allegedly did on the 7th and 8th of September.”

Court’s questionable accounting

The court-ordered penalty includes reimbursement to local law enforcement for the cost of police uniforms that were purchased in July before a court order was in effect. Other questionable expenses included the purchase of weapons by public and private police forces, overtime pay for unnecessary and wasteful staffing by the Cowlitz County Sheriff, exorbitant travel and salary costs for EGT lawyers – including time billed at over $400 an hour and first class airfare, and the reimbursement of government lawyers at hourly rates exceeding $400 – which is far more than they’re actually paid. The ILWU issued a statement saying that the union will appeal thedecision and expects the ruling to be overturned.

Rally shows strong support

The Large Rally on September 29 offered convincing proof that support for ILWU Local 21 has deep roots. Jobs With Justice worked with the AFL-CIO Labor Federations in Oregon and Washington to spread the word and encourage attendance. Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State AFL-CIO, summed up the fight to more than one thousand supporters who gathered in the park: “We’re going to win this fight because we’re right. We’re going to win this fight because this work – loading and unloading ships – is Longshore labor. And we’re going to win this fight because we’re going to stay out here one day onger,” he said.

Faith community comes forward

On Sunday afternoon, October 2, a smaller group of 100 gathered at the same park where the large rally met a few days earlier. The Sunday event featured local churchgoers who gathered quietly in the park with their heads bowed and eyes closed to offer prayers for a peaceful resolution to the conflict with EGT.

The group was convened by the Kelso Longview Ministerial Association which represents many local churches. Freda Everdell, 84, joined the prayer vigil and told a local reporter that she’s supported the International Longshore and Warehouse Union since her husband joined in 1946.

“This is a good thing for the whole community,” she said, referring to the prayer vigil. “I think the whole community needs it.” James Gaulke, a member of the local electricians’ union, said he hopes the jobs at the grain terminal will eventually go to the ILWU and that the Operating Engineers will support the Longshoremen’s cause.

“In my opinion, EGT is pitting one union against another that is wrong,” said Gaulke. He hopes that the Operating Engineers will stand down and “join in solidarity with the ILWU.”

“As a Christian, with strong Biblical convictions, I’m confident that my God is bigger than EGT,” Gaulke said.

Resuming contract talks is key

EGT and ILWU Local 21 participated in collective bargaining negotiations between September 2009 and May 2011. In April 2011, contract negotiations got stalled over EGT’s demand to have longshoremen work 12 hour shifts without any overtime pay and the company’s refusal to recognize maintenance, repair, and master console jurisdiction. To date, EGT has not returned to the
negotiating table and continues to refuse to agree to the Grainhandlers Agreement – even though ILWU Local 21 expressed its willingness to modify the agreement to meet EGT’s particular needs.

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