Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Columbia Grain Locks Out
Portland Longshore Workers

Columbia Grain has become the latest Pacific Northwest terminal operator to lock out its unionized workforce as a result an ongoing labor dispute.

The company, which is owned by Japanese trader Marubeni Corp, said it took the May 4 action because members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were purposefully engaging in a work slowdown at its Port of Portland terminal.

The longshore workers were, Columbia Grain alleges in a statement, “engaging in ‘inside game’ tactics, including slowdowns, work-to-rule, and demands for repeated inspections of the same equipment - all designed to negatively impact Columbia Grain’s operations.”

After the lockout, the union released a statement accusing the terminal operator of planning the lockout for months and aiming to use it to break the union local.

“Rather than reach a fair agreement, the company has hired an out-of-state strikebreaking firm, attorneys and a publicist to make allegations against local workers who simply want to do our jobs and support our community,” ILWU Local 8 President Bruce Holte said in a statement. Holte also happens to be a member of the nine-person Port of Portland Commission.

Prior to the lockout, the terminal typically used 15-20 longshoremen per shift, with two shifts per day, according to Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, the employer group engaged in contentious on-and-off negotiations with the union on a new labor contract.

Columbia Grain says has a plan in place to continue operations without its union dockworkers.

The Grain Handlers Association, which has been in negotiations with the union since early September 2012, represents Columbia Grain and two other terminal operators: United Grain Corp., which operates an export terminal at the Port of Vancouver in Washington State, and LD Commodities, operator of facilities in Portland and Seattle.

United Grain indefinitely locked out its union dockworkers workers Feb. 27, 2013, after accusing a union official who worked there of sabotaging equipment in retaliation for contentious ongoing contract negotiations.

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

The union has denied the charges.