Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Longview Port Labor Trouble Takes More Twists

In the latest twists to the ongoing Port of Longview labor strife, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Longview on Monday filed a petition to recall Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, claiming that Nelson and his officers have been overly aggressive in dealing with the union protestors.

Also on Monday, the National Labor Relations Board asked a federal judge to assess nearly $290,000 in fines against the ILWU for damage and costs related to a Sept. 8 free-for-all where hundreds of ILWU members and supporters raided a Longview grain terminal.

The labor troubles center around the Longview port's new $200 million grain export terminal, operated by EGT Development. The ILWU maintains that in signing a lease with the port, EGT is obligated to abide by the ILWU/port labor exclusivity agreement and hire ILWU workers for about 30 positions at the terminal.

The ILWU protests began in June, shortly after negotiations between EGT and the ILWU broke down and EGT hired workers from a different union to staff the terminal.
More than 150 ILWU members and supporters have been arrested since June for everything from alleged trespassing to accosting EGT employees to blocking access to the grain terminal.

Federal District Court Judge Ronald Leighton has admonished the union for its aggressive protesting and issued an injunction barring the protestors from engaging in such aggressive activity as well as blocking access to the grain terminal.
The ILWU insists that actions by EGT and local law enforcement are to blame for escalating tensions in the protests.

In their petition to recall Sheriff Nelson, the ILWU contends that Nelson has ordered his officers to harass union members at home, publically arrest union members, and has charged nearly $30,000 in unnecessary police overtime to the protests.

The recall effort still faces several hurdles. A superior court judge must first determine that the charges in the petition rise to the level of "malfeasance" or "misfeasance" by Nelson, and then the recall supporters must gather thousands of voter signatures to get the recall on the ballot. Cowlitz County officials have yet to release what might be the exact number of votes needed by the petitioners.

As the ILWU was filing its petition against Nelson, attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board were filing a damages and costs claim with Judge Leighton related to one protest incident.

In the early morning of Sept. 8, as many as 500 union members and supporters broke down the gate at the EGT terminal, damaged rail cars in the terminal yard, dumped grain from the cars, and damaged security vehicles before fleeing.

At the request of Judge Leighton, the NLRB compiled an assessment of the damage and costs related to the incident. The report found that EGT suffered $140,000 in damages, including the loss of nearly 10,000 dumped bushels of grain, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe suffered $13,000 in damages to rail equipment.

In addition, the report details just over $76,000 in police overtime costs related to the incident and $66,000 in NLRB attorney fees to compile the damage and costs report.

The NLRB is also asking that ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman, Treasurer Byron Jacobs and Executive Board member Michael Kelly Muller be found in violation of Judge Leighton's restraining order for blocking a train headed to the EGT terminal on Sept. 21.

Judge Leighton is expected to rule Friday on how much he will assess against the union.