Tuesday, January 24, 2012

EGT, ILWU Reach Tentative Labor Agreement

After being brought together by Gov. Christine Gregoire to find common ground, export grain terminal operator EGT and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have reached a tentative agreement that ends a months-long, sometimes violent labor dispute at the Port of Longview.

Neither the company nor the union has thus far revealed the details of the settlement, but each side confirmed in a Jan. 23 announcement that negotiations have been productive.

“The ILWU and EGT have reached a tentative settlement to resolve the pending legal matters between the parties and the Port of Longview,” EGT CEO Larry Clarke said in the statement, which was released by Gregoire's office. “While the parties are still working to finalize certain conditions over the next several days, we are optimistic we can resolve the dispute and get on with the business of operating the facility,” Clarke said.

Longview’s EGT terminal is a $200 million joint venture between Bunge Ltd, ITOCHU International and STX Pan Ocean.

The dispute stemmed from company using the services of a union other than the ILWU at the terminal. Members of union Local 21 had contended that its contract with the Port of Longview required that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal go to ILWU labor. The company, however, said its lease agreement with the port does not specify ILWU workers.

ILWU members and supporters picketed the facility throughout last summer over the issues, and a federal trial on the dispute was scheduled to begin in March.

Earlier this month, the union announced plans to picket the first incoming grain ship, due in late January. But that protest, like the federal trial, has apparently been called off, or at least put on hold.

During the previous pickets, protesters had stormed the facility, cut brake lines on rail cars and dumped grain from the cars, among other things, which led to dozens of arrests on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.

The first two criminal cases led to not-guilty verdicts in jury trials, and prosecutors later dropped the criminal charges against numerous other arrestees. Dozens of other cases are still pending in the criminal justice system, but many, if not most, could be dismissed.

“This is a win for the ILWU, EGT, and the Longview community,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath said of the agreement. “The ILWU has eight decades of grain export experience in the Northwest, and we look forward to the opportunity to develop a positive working relationship with EGT.”

It’s currently unclear how the agreement would affect Operating Engineers Local 701, the union whose members had been working at the terminal.