With proposed rule, U.S. Coast Guard will misuse taxpayer resources to provide private security for foreign grain conglomerates and trample American workers’ speech rights on Columbia River

PORTLAND, OR (July 15, 2013) – The United States Coast Guard has proposed a so-called “temporary safety zone” on the Columbia River that all but eliminates workers’ speech rights and puts foreign grain conglomerates, including Mitsui and Marubeni, in a protective bubble, buffering them from any consequences resulting from their continued lockout of American workers. The proposed rule provides taxpayer-funded Coast Guard security around all inbound and outbound grain shipment and grain-shipment assist vessels involved in commerce with Mitsui, Marubeni and Louis Dreyfus facilities on the Columbia River. Mitsui-owned United Grain in Vancouver, Wash., and Marubeni-owned Columbia Grain in Portland, Ore., have locked out their workers.


“The Coast Guard has not offered any justification as to why new zones of these sizes were chosen rather than more narrowly tailored, current zones that tread less upon free speech rights,” said Jeff Smith, President of ILWU Local 8. “The proposed zones prevent workers from engaging in meaningful, lawful protest activities by impeding our ability to form effective water pickets and informing crewmembers aboard vessels that they are about to cross fellow workers’ picket lines.”

The on-water picketing activities are aimed at announcing the existence of a picket line to incoming vessels and grain shipment assist vessels that may choose to honor the picket line. By prohibiting demonstrators from coming anywhere near incoming vessels, the safety zones effectively prevent workers from conveying their message to their intended audience.

“Workers have very limited speech rights under current labor law,” said Leal Sundet, ILWU Coast Committeeman. “The Coast Guard’s proposed rule eliminates what speech rights are left to us under Taft-Hartley by making it impossible for workers to establish meaningful water pickets that communicate to vessels that they are about the cross a picket line. We see this over and over again – domestic security organizations such as the Coast Guard, which is funded by taxpayer dollars, used to protect foreign companies to the detriment of the American worker.”


“With this rule, the Coast Guard is basically serving as the private security force for profitable foreign corporations Mitsui and Marubeni,” said Rich Austin, Jr., ILWU Grain Negotiating Co-Chairman. “Now workers carrying labor picket signs cannot get within several football fields of a vessel without risking arrest but everyone else can come and go as they please. The fact is that the Coast Guard is singling out labor unions for differential treatment for no reason at all other than protecting foreign commerce, and the American taxpaying worker is paying for it.”

The current proposed rule significantly increases regulation over previous rules governing safety zones around grain vessels. The Coast Guard previously published a rule in the Federal Register on January 30, 2013 (78 FR 6209, Docket Number USCG 2013-0010-001), which regulated only grain shipment vessels, and did not address vessels engaged in commerce with the Louis Dreyfus Grain facility. Another previous rule (77 FR 74777, Docket Number USCG-2012-1029) was even narrower, regulating only four specific tugboats and limiting the regulation to times when they were assisting in grain shipments, while the new rule applies to all tugs, pilot boats, and launches engaged in commerce with the named facilities at all times when they are within the Columbia River. Further, USCG-2012-1029 created a safety zone that extended only 50 yards ahead, abeam, and astern of the named vessels, a narrower area compared with the new proposal.

The rules mentioned in this news release are available for viewing and downloading at the following links:



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