Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ILWU Files Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against Mitsui

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4, which represents about 250 workers in Vancouver, Washington, has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Mitsui-United Grain Corp. for the company’s recent lockout of its workforce at the Port of Vancouver USA.

The charge was filed March 4 at the National Labor Relation Board’s Region 19 office in Seattle in response to the lockout.

United Grain Corp., a subsidiary of Japanese company Mitsui that operates an export terminal at the Port of Vancouver in Washington State, locked out its longshore workers Feb. 27, saying an investigation found that a union leader sabotaged terminal equipment, a charge the union has strongly denied.

An investigator hired by United Grain is said to have found out through video surveillance and other evidence, that a leader with International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 intentionally sabotaged equipment, resulting in $105,000 in damages, according to the terminal operator.

In its filing, Local 4 asserts that Mitsui-United Grain took the “extreme measure” of locking out its entire bargaining unit even though by its own statements it had identified and terminated the employee allegedly responsible for the property damage. According to the union, this constituted “loss of employment based on anti-union animus and a sweeping unilateral change of terms and conditions of employment.”

The employer however, maintains the measure was a necessary act to prevent additional vandalism that might impede operations or negatively impact safety. The company says it intends to continue operating the terminal with management personnel and replacement workers.

Since the lockout began, ILWU Local 4 members have been walking round-the-clock picket lines at the Mitsui-United Grain gate.

“It’s shameful that Mitsui-United Grain, a Japanese corporation that’s profiting from the United States’ infrastructure, natural resources and labor, has chosen to violate our federal law instead of negotiating a fair labor agreement with its American workforce,” ILWU International President Robert McEllrath, a Vancouver-based longshoreman, said. “Mitsui-United Grain should stop violating the law (and) end this harmful lockout.”

The sabotage allegation and lockout are among the byproducts of ongoing contract negotiations between the union and Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which represents UGC and two other terminal operators in Washington and Oregon, Columbia Grain, which operates a Port of Portland terminal; and LD Commodities, operator of facilities in Portland and Seattle.

The Grain Handlers Association has been in negotiations with the union since early September 2012, weeks prior to the previous contract’s Sept. 30 expiration date.