Washington governor brokered end to dispute on the docks

PORTLAND, Ore. - A whirlwind week of negotiations Jan. 23-27 appears to have ended a yearlong dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and EGT at the Port of Longview's new $200 million grain export facility.

On Jan. 23, Gov. Chris Gregoire, D-Wash., announced she had brokered a deal between the two parties that settled pending legal issues, unfair labor practice charges, and fines. Her announcement came a few hours before an administrative law judge was set to open hearings on unfair labor practice charges filed by the National Labor Relations Board against the ILWU for illegal picketing and other activities.

During the course of the year, ILWU blocked trains from delivering grain and members clashed with police, leading to several hundred arrests. In August, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order, prohibiting members of ILWU from mass picketing at the facility.

"I asked EGT and ILWU to come together in a good-faith effort to overcome their differences," Gregoire said in a press release. "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."

On Jan. 24, members of ILWU Local 21 ratified the settlement agreement. On Jan. 27, the Port of Longview's board of commissioners approved the settlement agreement before approving an amendment to its lease with EGT.

The ILWU protests centered on a decision by EGT to use an outside union contractor - instead of ILWU members - to staff the grain terminal. EGT sued, arguing that its lease agreement did not require it to hire longshore workers. The sides were awaiting a federal judge's ruling when the governor said a settlement was reached.

Gregoire's announcement surprised Operating Engineers Local 701, which represents workers at General Construction -- the contractor EGT hired to staff the grain terminal. Local 701 asserts that ILWU doesn't hold a jurisdictional claim to the work.

"We weren't notified of any secret negotiations," said Nelda Wilson, assistant to the business manager of Local 701. In fact, in October the union sent a letter to Gregoire and other politicians asking they not get involved.

"This is a pretty slippery slope having a governor intervene in a labor dispute," said Wilson, explaining workers have protections under the National Labor Relations Act, and union jurisdictional issues have remedies under the AFL-CIO constitution.

"Think about it: What if Washington had a Scott Walker (Governor of Wisconsin, who recently stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights) in the driver's seat? I think this is a very dangerous precedent to have set."

Wilson said employees of General Construction were laid off Jan. 23, the day of the governor's announcement.

In a written statement to the Longview Daily News, Local 701 Business Manager Mark Holliday said: "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."

The port's amended lease with EGT states the multinational company is no longer bound by the port's "working agreement" with ILWU. In exchange, EGT agreed ILWU will provide the labor for EGT's facility, and agreed to a union card-check procedure. If a majority of workers choose to be represented by Local 21, EGT and the union will open bargaining on a labor agreement for all land- and shipside operations.

According to the Longview Daily News and confirmed by ILWU, the settlement agreement with the port contains language that ILWU must request that all outside groups -- including other labor unions and the Occupy movement -- refrain from picketing at EGT. The Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council had called for mass pickets of the first incoming ship to load grain at the terminal.

The union can resume its picketing if collective bargaining breaks down.

Michael Gutwig is editor of the Northwest Labor Press.

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