Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hundreds of ILWU Members Storm Longview Grain Facility, Damage Rail Cars and Dump Grain

Hundreds of union dockers protesting the operator of a new $200 million Longview port grain facility stormed the gates of the facility early Thursday, detained security guards, damaged train cars and dumped a reported 10,000 tons of grain from rail cars onto the tracks.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union from the Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett ports either joining in the Longview action or simply staying at home in support effectively shuttered the three ports Thursday. The union has labeled the Seattle and Tacoma members' actions as a wildcat strike and said it is investigating the extent.

According to police reports, as many as 500 ILWU members took part in the early morning protest in Longview, which ended with no injuries and no arrests. ILWU members were in the facility for several hours and police reported that in addition to the dumped grain, the facility's six security guards were detained, a security vehicle damaged, guard shack windows broken, and railcar brake lines cut. It is the second time protestors have broken into the terminal since the protests began in July.

The ILWU said that those involved in Thursday's incident, which reportedly attracted union members from as far away as Seattle and Tacoma, were not acting under union orders.

The incident comes one day after more than a dozen ILWU members were arrested in two attempts to block the same train.

Early Wednesday morning, more than 200 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union took up positions on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks in downtown Vancouver. The grain-laden BNSF train, heading to the EGT grain facility at Longview roughly 35 miles to the north, was blocked until the late afternoon, when it finally resumed heading for Longview.

Hundreds more ILWU members, led by ILWU President Robert McEllrath, blocked the train again near the Port of Longview. After an hour and a half standoff, and the appearance of more than 40 police officers in riot gear, the dockers relented and allowed the train to complete its trip to the grain facility. There were reports that police used clubs and pepper spray at the Longview blockade. Newswire photos from the incident show protesters scuffling with police, who eventually made 19 arrests including McEllrath.

The eight months of ILWU protests in Longview, which have seen more than 100 arrests, center on the summertime decision by EGT – through a subcontractor – to use workers from a different labor union to staff the facility.

The ILWU contends that EGT, in signing a lease last year with the port, also agreed to the ILWU labor exclusivity agreement with the port and EGT is thus required to hire ILWU members for the roughly 100 positions at the facility.

Thursday's incident and both of Wednesday's train incidents appear to run counter to a federal judge's temporary restraining order issued last week against the ILWU, which specifically barred the union from engaging in "unlawful...picket line violence, threats and property damage, mass picketing and blocking of ingress and egress at the facility of EGT."

US District Court Judge Ronald Leighton also prohibited the ILWU from "restraining or coercing the employees of EGT...or any other person doing business in relation to the EGT facility."

The restraining order was requested by the National Labor Relations Board, which only days before had filed a formal complaint contending that the ILWU picketers have no legitimate labor issue with EGT while simultaneously engaging in illegally violent, aggressive and coercive actions against the firm.

An administrative law judge is set to hear the NLRB complaint on Oct. 11 in Portland.
Judge Leighton's temporary restraining order will be in effect through Sept. 10, and the judge plans to conduct a hearing Friday to considering making the restraining order permanent.

ILWU officials said last week they believe the judge's order still permits members to picket EGT.