Friday, August 15, 2014

Union, Grain Handler Companies Reach Deal

By Mark Edward Nero

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service says that a tentative agreement has been reached in the contentious two-year labor dispute at Northwest grain terminals. The agreement between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Northwest Grain Companies was reached just before midnight on August 11.

“After engaging in difficult and contentious bargaining for over two years, including multiple marathon mediation sessions... the announcement of the tentative agreement, subject to the ratification of ILWU membership, represents an amazing achievement of a potentially positive outcome,” FMCS Acting Director Scot Beckenbaugh said.

The Washington, DC-based Mediation and Conciliation Service said that in accordance with the agency’s longstanding policy on confidentiality, it won’t comment on or disclose the terms of the agreement.

The contract dispute initially involved six terminals operating under a single collective bargaining agreement with the ILWU: Portland-based Columbia Grain; Vancouver, Washington-based United Grain; TEMCO, which operates grain elevators in Portland and Tacoma, Washington; and Louis Dreyfus Commodities, which has grain elevators in Seattle and Portland.

However TEMCO, which is owned jointly by agricultural cooperative CHS Inc. and agricultural purchase and distribution company Cargill, broke from the alliance in December 2012 and separately negotiated a contract with the union in the spring of 2013.

In May 2013, Columbia Grain, which is owned by Japanese trader Marubeni Corp, locked out its unionized workforce because, it claims, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were purposefully engaging in a work slowdown at its Port of Portland terminal.

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

The grain companies began negotiations with the union in September 2012, with the ILWU saying at the time that it wouldn’t budge on some concessions the owners have asked for, 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.