Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Grain Association, Union Resuming Contract Negotiations

Despite rumors of an impending lockout, contract negotiations were scheduled to resume this week between the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union, according to a federal mediator.

The parties were slated to resume negotiations Oct. 29 upon the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent US government agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation.

“Due to the sensitivity of this high profile dispute and consistent with the Agency’s longstanding practice, we will not disclose either the location of the meeting or the content of the substantive negotiations that will take place,” the FMCS said in a statement.

The negotiating parties have also agreed to an FMCS request that they refrain from public comments regarding the status of negotiations, according to the federal agency.

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 association began negotiations with the union in early September. The owners group has said it wants a contract similar to what was worked out between management and longshore workers at the Port of Longview earlier this year for the port’s EGT grain terminal. The contract includes several cost-saving workplace rules.

The union says it won’t budge on some concessions the owners want, such as 12-hour work shifts, an ability to bypass the union hiring hall, and being given greater control over the ability to fire dockworkers.

Despite the increasingly contentious negotiations, there have been no reported labor disruptions at any of the affected terminals so far. The union says plans are underway to organize boat pickets on the Columbia and Willamette rivers if a lockout occurs.

The FMCS, which was created in 1947, is headquartered in Washington, DC and has 10 district offices and 67 field offices across the US The agency provides mediation and conflict resolution services to industry, government agencies and communities.