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Focus: Global Supply Chain and Logistics

Our Weekly Feature Article on Topics Related to Global SupplyChain Logistics

From SCDigest's On-Target e-Magazine

Sept. 14 , 2011


Global Logistics News: Violent Longshoremen's Action in Washington Causes Concern, Shows ILWU Determination not to Let Any other Union in West Coast Ports

Months of Tension at New Grain Terminal Explode into Violence Last Week; Are Members of One Union "Scabs" if they Replace Another Union Unable to Reach an Agreement?


SCDigest Editorial Staff


A simmering dispute between a grain terminal operator at the Port of Longview in Washington state grew violent last week, with the head of the ILWU himself in the end being led away in handcuffs, leading to a one -day shutdown of the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle in a short sympathy strike with their union brethren.

SCDigest Says:


Some believe that even if the court rules in favor of EGT and permits the other union to operate at the terminal, the IWLU will continue to aggressively block the port's operations.

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The incident just highlights some of the complexities of labor negotiations, as the ILWU dispute at the port is not about union versus non-union, but rather the attempt by EGT Development, the company that finished building a new $200 million grain terminal at the Longview port in July, the first new West coast grain terminal constructed in 30 years, to employ a different union.

After a year and a half of talks leading up to the terminal's completion, EGT and the Longshoremen could not reach an agreement. The three primary issues are said to be first, who would run the terminal's "master control" systems for ship loading, how grain flows across the terminal, etc. EGT did not want any union participation in the master control process, whereas the ILWU says that this is where they have always been in port operations.

"We are in the master console – that's where we've been for a long time. We've worked these elevators since 1934, and we've always been in that master console," said local ILWU president Dan Coffman earlier this summer.

The second key issue was around work schedules. The third was a union demand that EGT pay a $20 per man-hour premium to cover pensions.

Because these issues were not resolved, EGT brought in an outside contractor, called General Construction, to run the operation. General Construction used a different union - the Operating Engineers. Reports were that about 50 workers from this new union were originally hired to run the terminal..

The ILWU says that violates the contract it has in a master agreement with the port itself.

The union began taking actions this summer to stop the terminal and the other union from operating. (We're trying to ponder whether a different union taking jobs from the ILWU because an agreement could not be reached should be considered "scabs" or not.)

"We don't have a relationship with EGT. Our relationship is only with our contractor, General Construction," said Nelda Wilson, a spokesperson for the Operating Engineers union.

Those actions included one day when some hundreds of IWLU members laid across railroad tracks to keep rail cars from moving. As a result, the terminal was barely operational, and most of its potential volume was shipped through other ports.

The issue is being litigated in Federal court in Washington, primarily related to the contractual issues as to whether EGT must use the ILWU or not based on the contract the union has with the port itself.


Things Spiral Out of Control Last Week

The standoff led to a violent episode last week, however, as some 500 members of the ILWU attacked security guards last week while storming the Port of Longview, in part in an attempt to block train cars full of incoming grains to reach the EGT terminal.

In addition to the personal attacks and moves to block the rail cars, the IWLU was said to have vandalized other rail cars and dumped the grains out of several of them.

(Global Supply Chain Article Continued Below)




Original reports even said that some security guards were being held hostage, but the case turned out to be instead that several guards felt trapped where they were and unable to flee the violence.

Some 20 union activists were arrested, including ILWU president Bob McEllrath. Some union members pledge further uprisings down the road.

After the incident, union workers at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle walked off the job in protest last Thursday. They were back to work on Friday, however.

In a letter to IWLU members last week, McEllrath pledged block the new union no matter what.

"ILWU longshoremen work at every grain export facility in the Pacific Northwest – Seattle, Tacoma, Aberdeen, Portland, Vancouver, and Longview....EGT is attempting to break the master grain agreement and become the first grain export terminal in the Pacific Northwest to operate without ILWU," McEllrath wrote. "This constitutes an assault on over 80 years of longshore jurisdiction – an assault that could fundamentally change the dynamics of the relationship within the grain industry as a whole. It is critical to the Longshore Division that this does not happen."

Some believe that even if the court rules in favor of EGT and permits the other union to operate at the terminal, the IWLU will continue to aggressively block the port's operations.

The ultimate path on this can be important for shippers, the ports, and the ILWU, as EGT's success could potentially show a path for others down the road to bypass the ILWU even if maintaining union labor.

What's your reaction to the EGT-ILWU standoff? How do you think it will play out? Does it have any longer term implications? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

Recent Feedback

And people wonder why unions are losing support and jobs?!? Asking for a $20 per manhour "premium" to cover "pensions" is just plain sad. We are in a period of sustained high unemployment, I am guessing that the extra $20 per man-hour could be used to employ non-union workers in other areas of EGT's business. What ever happened to those 10%-15% union dues that each member paid going to pay for things like pensions?!?

Oct, 26 2011