Friday, November 30, 2012

Union, Grain Handlers Association Talks Break Down

Contract talks between the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association and a union representing dockworkers across the Pacific Northwest have broken down, but both sides say they don’t anticipate a strike or lockout in the near term.

The owners group had given the International Longshore and Warehouse Union until the clock struck midnight on Nov. 29 to accept what they said was their final offer on a deal. But ownership spokesman Pat McCormick has said no lockout is planned.

The 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, weeks prior to the previous contract’s Sept. 30 expiration date.

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.

However, 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, no labor disruptions have been reported at any of the affected terminals so far. A union source however, has said plans are underway to organize boat pickets on the Columbia and Willamette rivers if a lockout does occur.