Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Grain Shippers, Union Begin Contract Negotiations

Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, a consortium of Northwest grain shippers, says it’s optimistic that it will be able to reach a new contract agreement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The two sides recently began negotiations involving Puget Sound terminals and operations on the Columbia River. The current contract between the groups expires Sept. 30.

The Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association represents four companies: Columbia Grain, which operates a Port of Portland terminal; United Grain Corp., which has an export terminal at the Port of Vancouver in Washington; LD Commodities, operator of facilities in Portland and Seattle; and TEMCO, which has facilities in Kalama, Portland and Tacoma.

The negotiations come eight months after EGT, operator of a new grain terminal at the Port of Longview, reached a contract deal with the union after a tumultuous battle that led to dozens of arrests of ILWU members and supporters during a series of protests last summer.

During some of those pickets, protesters stormed the facility, cut brake lines on rail cars and dumped grain from the cars, among other things. The dozens of arrests were mostly for trespassing and disorderly conduct.

But in a statement, the Grain Handlers Association said it expects negotiations to go more smoothly than the EGT contract talks, during which the ILWU maintained that its contract with the Port of Longview requires that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal go to ILWU workers.

The two sides came to an agreement and signed a contract in January.

Barring an interruption due to labor issues, Pacific Northwest terminals are expected handle nearly half of 33 million metric tons of wheat expected to be exported from the US this year.