Thursday, September 22, 2011

Longview Labor Strife Flares Up...Again

Longshore union protestors on Wednesday again attempted to block a grain-laden train from entering a Port of Longview grain terminal at the center of a labor dispute, leading to the arrest of a dozen protestors including two International Longshore and Warehouse Union officers, as well as wives and mothers of union members.

The two union officers, including ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman, and members of the ILWU local's "ladies auxiliary," which reportedly includes wives and mothers of union members, were detained on charges of criminal trespass and obstructing a train.

At least two of the protestors were reportedly treated after being hit by pepper spray from a phalanx of police officers tasked with preventing the train from being blocked.

The train eventually reached its destination at the port's new $200 million grain terminal operated under lease by EGT Development.

The ILWU has been locked in a labor dispute with EGT since June, when the terminal operator hired a different union to provide labor for about 50 positions at the grain facility. The ILWU maintains that EGT, by signing a lease with the port, is required to abide by a labor exclusivity agreement the docker union has with the port.

Since then, more than 200 protestors have been arrested.

Wednesday's action appears to fly in the face of a restraining order issued by a federal judge that bars ILWU members from, among other things, preventing trains from entering the grain facility.

On Sept. 1, Federal District Court Judge Ronald Leighton issued a temporary restraining order against the protesters, admonishing the protesters from engaging in violent action, damaging EGT property, impeding business at the terminal or preventing access to and from the grain terminal.

On Sept. 7, in apparent defiance of the initial restraining order, several hundred protesters prevented a BNSF train loaded with grain from moving through Vancouver on its way to the EGT terminal in Longview. After protesters relented and allowed the train to progress, another group of about 200 protesters blocked the train again as it entered the Longview port. Following a tense hour and a half stand off with police in riot gear, the train was allowed to continue and eventually pulled into the EGT terminal Wednesday night. Nineteen protestors were detained by police at the Longview incident.

Early the next morning, a group of between 400 and 500 protesters stormed the EGT facility, broke down the gates, broke windows in the guard shack, damaged EGT security vehicles, cut brake lines on the grain train and dumped a large amount of the grain from the rail cars before fleeing.

Later the same day, Judge Leighton made the temporary restraining order a preliminary injunction and expanded the order to include all ILWU locals on the West Coast. He warned that a violation of the injunction could carry charges of federal civil contempt and up to $25,000 per violation.

Leighton warned that the ILWU actions over the previous 48 hours had been "patently illegal," and he angrily told union attorneys that while a proper way to protest requires restraint, "Your clients have none of that."

Last Thursday, Judge Leighton made good on his warning, finding the ILWU in contempt of court for the Sept. 8 incident and ruling that the union will have to pay for damages caused by the union raid of the grain facility. An accounting of the full damages is expected by the end of the month.