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July 2011, Week 4

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Fri, 22 Jul 2011 20:41:42 -0400
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Longshore Workers Thresh Grain Shipper, Block Train 

By Evan Rohar 

Jul 21 2011 

Labor Notes

http://labornotes.org/blogs/2011/07/longshore-workers-thresh-grain-shipper-block-train

Longshore workers by the hundreds blocked a mile-long
train July 14 to prevent an anti-union company from
moving grain through the port of Longview, Washington.
EGT Development wants to operate its new $200 million
facility using non-longshore labor.

The action is the third in a series of protests by
Longshore Union (ILWU) Local 21. In one case, members
used a pickup truck to tear down a fence and then
occupied the grain terminal, blocking EGT employees from
working. About 100 union members, including leaders,
were arrested for criminal trespassing. The Burlington
Northern Santa Fe has suspended train traffic to the
terminal.

Members of Local 21 have been joined by longshore
workers from throughout the Northwest, many of whom have
taken off from their jobs to join the protests. Grain
elevators exist at all the Northwest ports.

"This is much bigger than Longview," said Scott Mason,
president of ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma, Washington. "It's
about organized labor and not having a Wisconsin."

EGT started the fight by suing the Port of Longview to
void the stipulation in its lease that requires EGT to
hire Local 21 members. The trial is set to begin next
year and could drag on for years. In the meantime, EGT
has broken off negotiations with the ILWU and is
operating its terminal as if it had already won the
case.

At stake for 200-member Local 21 are about 50 jobs and a
foot in the door for union-busters. Initially, EGT
expressed interest in hiring non-union labor but instead
contracted the work to a company organized by Operating
Engineers (IUOE) Local 701, from Oregon. In a news
release, IUOE expressed no aversion to raiding another
union's jobs. Local officials would not comment.

But the president of the Tacoma, Washington-based IOUE
local told Longview's Daily News that the EGT terminal
is out of his jurisdiction, and his local would not take
other unions' work.

Mason warned that no one should be fooled by the "ruse
[EGT is] putting on, saying they got another union in
there. It's a mask to hide their ultimate goal to have
no union." Small Port, Big Company

Though a small port, Longview is a gateway to the world
for the Pacific Northwest's sizable agricultural
industry. The Daily News reports [1] that EGT is owned
by a Japanese company, a Korean shipper, and St.
Louis-based Bunge North America, which earned a $2.5
billion profit last year. The company says it would cost
$1 million more annually to run the terminal with ILWU
labor.

Besides the company's legal obligation to hire ILWU
members, union workers argue for the benefits of the
longshore dispatching system, which allows members to
choose which job they want to perform each day. This
flexibility eases the monotony of physical labor, which,
some say, saves lives in one of the most dangerous jobs
in the country. Any breach of the union's jurisdiction
could damage that system.

In the ILWU's eyes, EGT's actions amount to a
declaration of war; success for the company would create
an opening for other employers to hire outside the
union. Every other major grain terminal on the West
Coast is under ILWU contract.

Local President Dan Coffman told reporters, "We have
worked this dock for 70 years, and to have a big, rich
corporation come in and say 'We don't want you' is a
problem." So Local 21 is causing big problems for EGT,
in an industry in which hours of delay can cost
companies millions in revenue.

Asked how the ILWU decided on the militant tactics,
Mason said, "Tearing a fence down to throw a scab out,
that doesn't sound very militant to me. It might be
militant by today's standards, but maybe that's because
the politics of the country have changed so much."

More actions can be expected. Mason said the ILWU will
do whatever is necessary to make sure longshore jobs are
preserved at all the grain elevators in the Northwest.
Legal or Not

It was an illegal job action similar to Local 21's that
created one of the only clear victories for labor in
recent years. Members of the United Electrical Workers
at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago occupied their
factory in December 2008. They won their legally
guaranteed severance packages and inspired union
activists across the country.

Similarly, EGT is bound by contract to use Longshore
labor--yet Local 21 must turn to civil disobedience to
protect its members' jobs.

Dockers on the East Coast have had to use aggressive
action to defend their jobs, too. Longshore workers shut
the mammoth New York-New Jersey port [1] for two days
last September, honoring a picket line erected by
members of the Longshoremen (ILA) from Philadelphia.
They brought the picket line to New York and Baltimore
to protest the Del Monte fruit company's decision to
move its banana-and-pineapple importing operation to a
non-ILA pier.

Of course, most employer aggression against unions, such
as Governor Scott Walker's in Wisconsin, is entirely
legal. The question remains whether unions can
successfully use such bold tactics to resist employer
attacks that have the blessing of the law.

Victories like the one at Republic and, one hopes, at
EGT could show other unions how to disobey unjust labor
laws. As Dr. King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham
Jail, "There are two types of laws: just and unjust. One
has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

Maybe more unions should take a page out of civil rights
movement history. Tear up Taft-Hartley and light up
Landrum-Griffin. Workers protecting their jobs answer to
a higher moral authority than the legislative bodies
that squawk about trespassing laws.


Evan Rohar is a former casual worker at the Port of
Tacoma.

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