Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Washington Cargo Ops Back To Normal After Longview Labor Unrest

Cargo operations at Washington state ports appeared to be back to normal after a one-day wildcat strike by union dockers on Thursday shuttered marine facilities at Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett.

The one-day walkout by members of the International Longhsore and Warehouse Union was a show of support – albeit one not officially sanctioned by the union leadership – for ILWU members in Longview protesting EGT Development, the operator of a new $200 million grain export terminal at the port.

EGT signed a lease with the port that calls for the firm to use ILWU labor for roughly 25 to 30 jobs in the terminal, but eventually hired a different union to provide the labor. ILWU members have been protesting against EGT since June.

The protests have at times become contentious, with both sides claiming the other was escalating the situation. More than a hundred protesters have been arrested for various violations since the protests began.

Federal District Court Judge Ronald Leighton issued a temporary restraining order against the protesters two weeks ago, 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.

Last Wednesday, in apparent defiance of the 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 standoff 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 following morning, a group of between 400 and 500 protesters stormed the EGT facility, broke down the gates, broke windows in the guard shack, damaged a security vehicle, cut brake lines on the grain train and dumped a large amount of the grain from the rail cars before fleeing.

Local police have promised to make arrests over the incident.

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. A violation of the injunction could carry charges of federal civil contempt and up to $25,000 per violation.

Leighton called the ILWU actions over the previous 48 hours "patently illegal," angrily telling union attorneys Thursday that there is a proper way to protest.
"It requires some restraint. Your clients have none of that," Leighton said. "They have to obey local laws. They must restrain themselves from violence, threats, vandalism and the like."

Leighton also scheduled a Sept. 15 hearing to determine if the ILWU was guilty of civil contempt in violating the original restraining order.

EGT, which was in the final start-up phase of the terminal when the protests began, said late last week that it now plans to bring the facility fully on-line.