Longshore Union, Occupy Poised to Greet Grain Ship
by Eduardo Soriano-Castillo
January 23, 2012
Conflict is looming over a grain exporter's attempt to
use scab labor to load a freighter in Longview,
Washington. Occupiers and Longshore unionists-who
blocked a train in September-expect a heavily armed
police presence, but their own friction is adding
Waiting somewhere in the Columbia River is a freighter.
The transnational grain exporter EGT wants to use scab
labor to load it at the small Washington state port of
Longview and send it to Asia.
It won't be easy. Hundreds of Occupiers and Longshore
union (ILWU) members in the Northwest have vowed to
protest when the freighter attempts to dock and load.
ILWU members have stood together in Longview since
June, halting trains, dumping the grain they carry, and
invading the port terminal to stop scab work.
Their campaign of nonviolent resistance has been met
with escalating police action and 130 arrests, some so
aggressive they have sent ILWU allies to the hospital.
The stakes are higher this time. A Coast Guard escort
will join the grain ship as it attempts to dock. Dan
Coffman, president of ILWU Local 21 in Longview,
expects vessels with mounted .50 caliber machine guns,
armed Coast Guardsmen on the grain ship, and a big law
enforcement presence bristling with weaponry.
"They're taking taxpayer money to come and break a
union," said an outraged Coffman.
Portland-based EGT is owned by a grain cartel composed
of St. Louis-based Bunge North America, Korean shipper
Pan Ocean STX, and Japan-based Itochu Corporation.
Although only 50 jobs are immediately at stake in
Longview, if EGT wins this fight the door is kicked
open for other union-busters-and the ILWU could lose
the grain work that accounts for 20 percent of the
financing of its pension and welfare funds.
Coffman says the union is also at risk under the
PATRIOT Act and more recently the National Defense
Authorization Act, saying protesters may be labeled
He added that members' Transportation Worker
Identification Credential, a federally mandated
security document for port personnel, could be revoked
under Coast Guard regulations. Fines and federal
injunctions have already cost the union more than
$300,000 for its disruptions.
Still, in a January 3 letter to all locals titled
"Prepare to take action when EGT vessel arrives," ILWU
President Bob McEllrath blasted out a call for mass
member action in Longview. Union members know the
"Me and my fellow longshoremen have been here before,"
said a Seattle member who participated in last summer's
dump of grain on the Longview railroad tracks, when 800
members mobilized. "We're ready to go when the call
Blocking the ship is "something that we're going to
have to consider," Coffman said. "It's kind of
EGT is responding with ruses and false starts. A vessel
headed for Longview January 11 was diverted to Portland
at the last minute. The union maintains a 24-hour
Continuing difficulties between some ILWU locals,
members, and Occupy participants are also muddying the
"We keep stressing to everybody we talk to it's
nonviolent disobedience," Coffman said. "If you're
going to plan on tearing stuff up, stay home."
Occupy and the ILWU have vastly different
organizational and cultural orientations, making it
understandable why their relationship has had growing
The strain grew around Occupy's call for a shutdown of
West Coast ports December 12 as a protest against the
1%. The ILWU questioned why Occupy failed to consult
with the union, when its members would be most
Occupy members interpreted the union's distancing
itself from the action as, at best, a legal safeguard
against the fines that could result from a work
stoppage, which would violate the ILWU contract's ban
on strikes. At worst, they thought it demonstrated the
union movement's timidity.
When Occupiers blocked port work in Oakland, Seattle,
and Portland, they declared solidarity with ILWU
members in Longview as one of their goals.
Now both groups are mobilizing to protest when the ship
tries to dock, but ILWU officials are wary of Occupy's
support, fearing unsanctioned actions in Longview and
even attempts to block ports again in other West Coast
cities. Occupy has not called for such actions
directly, though Occupy Oakland asked that those who
"cannot physically join the community blockade in
Longview, Washington, mobilize in solidarity through
direct action in their communities."
McEllrath told locals to make sure enough members
remain behind to work the ports, while mobilizing the
rest to get to Longview. He raised the specter of an
injunction, citing "the Taft-Hartley Act that
criminalizes worker solidarity," and warned that the
union must "cut a narrow path," presumably to avoid
being charged with violating that law's ban on sympathy
The tension between the ILWU and Occupy was on display
in all its ugly honesty in Seattle January 6. Occupy
Seattle, Portland, and Oakland had planned a panel
discussion to promote the Longview convergence,
featuring several members of ILWU.
Retiree Jack Heyman from Oakland noted that the union
had not asked members to endorse the December port
shutdown but argued that members "voted with their
feet" by refusing to work.
A group of Seattle ILWU members and officers
interrupted Heyman, questioning what authority he had
at the gathering. A heated exchange including some
pushing and shoving ensued. Six days later, members of
Seattle's Local 19 passed a resolution that pledged
members to withhold support for Occupy and demanded an
"The `Occupy' movement has tried to substitute
themselves for the membership in our struggle with EGT,
and has attempted to subvert the ILWU," the local
In his call to action, McEllrath had advised members to
"take extreme caution when dealing with supporters of
non-ILWU sanctioned calls to action relative to EGT."
While some Occupy participants claim the union is
divided between members and headquarters bureaucrats,
Coffman said Local 21 is looking to the international
for a lead.
"The international is in control and will be
directing," he said. "That's why we elect those
Coffman said the union is contacting unionists who have
sent letters of solidarity and attended rallies
throughout the months of protest. The Cowlitz County,
Washington state, and San Francisco labor councils are
all helping to spread the word.
Cowlitz's Central Labor Council, which covers the
Longview area, invited "all friends of labor and the
`99%' everywhere to come to the aid of ILWU Local 21."
PROTEST TOO MUCH
Paul Nipper, an organizer with Occupy Longview, said
the tension is overblown.
"ILWU does support us," he said. "However, publicly
speaking on our behalf, and being involved with the
planning, is not in their best interest. What good are
we doing for them if we cost them more money in court?"
He advised that Occupiers focus on the real problem-
"This transnational giant EGT came into our town, lied
to the residents, bought political influence, took away
jobs from our community, and uses our port as a way to
extract wealth from this town," Nipper said. "What does
Occupy stand for if it doesn't stand up to EGT?"
Occupiers in Oakland are busy making preparations for
the convergence in Longview, 13 hours north. At a
recent Occupy labor solidarity meeting, planners gave
reports on housing, legal support, and caravan
preparations. To date more than 100 community
supporters have signed up to head to Longview.
"We're out there doing the hard and tedious work of
recruiting people," said Moises Montoya of Oakland's
labor solidarity committee.
"This struggle has reinvigorated old-timers like
myself," he said. "I'm hopeful that as Occupy and labor
learn more about each other we will mature and build a
deeper, respectful strategic relationship for the long
In Longview, logistics are coming together. Nipper said
activists are using the inter-Occupy conference call
system, email groups, phone trees, and social
networking to do the planning.
They coordinated a nonviolent resistance training and
are working with church allies to find enough beds in
town. Planners want a lot of cushion. They're
anticipating big numbers.
Evan Rohar contributed to this article.
ILWU, EGT Reach Tentative Deal in Longview Labor
By Erik Olson
The Daily News
January 23, 2012
Union dock workers and EGT Development have reached a
tentative agreement to end their year-long labor
dispute at the Port of Longview, though final details
still are being hashed out, Gov. Chris Gregoire
The announcement ushers in labor peace at the $200
million grain terminal where two incoming grain trains
were blocked, dozens of protesters were arrested and
hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines was levied
against the union. The agreement also appears to head
off a mass protest of EGT's first inbound grain ship,
expected within weeks.
"It brought tears to my eyes. Gov. Gregoire must be an
angel. That's the only thing I can figure out.
Everybody tried, but she got it done," said Darold
Dietz, a Port of Longview commissioner and retired
longshoreman, on when he heard the news.
Gregoire met as a mediator with EGT and ILWU leaders
about a dozen times since August, said Karina Sharen,
the governor's spokeswoman.
"Both parties should be commended for their willingness
to work together and compromise. This framework
reflects considerable effort to put the interests of
the Longview community and the entire Columbia River
basin first. I am confident an agreement can be reached
that will satisfy both parties and allow the new grain
terminal to become fully operational," Gregoire said in
a written statement.
Added Robert McEllrath, president of the San Francisco-
based International Longshore and Warehouse Union,
"This is a win for the ILWU, EGT and the Longview
Union officials have cautioned that a final staffing
agreement of the terminal has not been reached, and it
must be approved by a vote of rank-and-file dock
Contract talks between EGT and the ILWU broke off a
year ago, and union protests heated up over the summer.
In July, EGT officials announced they would instead
hire to a five-year contract Federal Way-based General
Construction, which employed union operating engineers
for the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal.
The fate of the International Union of Operating
Engineers Local 701 at the EGT terminal is unclear. A
representative of General did not return a message
seeking comment, and union officials said they would
stay with the contractor.
"Local 701 members will continue to work for General
Construction as we have done for almost 90 years
whether at the EGT facility or somewhere else. Our
labor contract is with General Construction. We have
never had and still don't have a relationship or
contract with EGT," said Mark Holliday, Local 701
business manager, in a written statement.
In a written statement, EGT CEO Larry Clarke did not
address the company's contract with General
Construction, but he expressed optimism about reaching
a final agreement with the ILWU.
"While the parties are still working to finalize
certain conditions over the next several days, we are
optimistic we can resolve the dispute and get on with
the business of operating the facility. From the
beginning, we had two core goals - to operate this
21st-century facility safely and efficiently and to
ensure the entire Longview community shares in the
economic benefits this facility will provide," Clarke
For more on this story, check tdn.com for updates and
see Tuesday's print edition of The Daily News.
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