Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ILWU Head Convicted of Obstruction

After a three-day trial in Cowlitz County, Washington Superior Court, International Longshore and Warehouse Union International President Robert McEllrath was convicted Sept. 28 of a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a train bound for the Port of Longview’s EGT grain terminal during a protest last year.

After a six-person jury found McEllrath guilty, he was sentenced to serve one day in jail, with 89 other days suspended. He was also ordered to pay $543 in fines.

At the time of the Sept. 7, 2011 protest, which ultimately led to the conviction, ILWU Local 21 had been in a dispute with terminal operator EGT over EGT’s labor usage. The local had contended that its contract with the Port of Longview required that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal go to ILWU workers.

The company, however, said its lease agreement with the port did not specify ILWU workers. Members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701 had been working at the terminal.
“Fighting for good jobs in America shouldn’t be a crime,” McEllrath said following his arrest.

He was first tried in District Court last June, but the two-day trial ended after the six jurists hearing the case couldn’t agree on a verdict, resulting in a hung jury.
Before being sentenced after the retrial, he was unrepentant, telling the court he had “no regrets about leading men and women against corporate greed and helping them fight to protect middle class jobs in America.”

The labor issue was eventually settled under an agreement ratified by the port Jan. 27 and signed with the union in early February. Under it, all labor at the terminal must be dispatched through the Local 21 union hall.

Although McEllrath, who is based in San Francisco, is the highest-ranking union member convicted in the case, the president of the Local 21 chapter and a member of the union’s executive board both pleaded guilty in March to charges related to last summer’s protests.

ILWU dockworkers at a handful of Pacific Northwest seaports reportedly walked off the job Sept. 28 in protest of the conviction, including at the Port of Portland and Port of Longview, where a handful of union members left after the verdict was read around 4 pm. They then returned to work one to two hours later and no major disruptions of workflow were reported.