Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Union, Grain Handlers Association Near Possible Lockout

Contract negotiations between the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union are at an impasse and a lockout could be imminent, according to sources.

The Grain Handlers Association is expected to lock out longshore workers on Oct. 24 at six Northwest grain terminals in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver, Washington, according to the ILWU.

The contract between the groups was set to expire Sept. 30, but the grain handlers group announced Sept. 28 that it had agreed with the union to push the expiration date back two weeks while negotiations continued. However, an agreement was still not reached.

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 involving Puget Sound terminals and operations on the Columbia River 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. But plans are underway to organize boat pickets on the Columbia and Willamette rivers if the lockout occurs, according to the union.