Longshoremen at a half-dozen Pacific Northwest grain terminals have overwhelmingly rejected what owners describe as their “last, best and final” contract offer.
Terminal owners in a statement issued Monday afternoon said they are considering their options.
The terminal owners could unilaterally impose the terms of their last offer. Or they could lock out union workers and replace them with strikebreakers. The owners have replacement workers standing by in Portland and Seattle-area motels to step in and continue grain loading on ships bound for Asia. Or the union could strike.
Union representatives asked the owners to return to the bargaining table and offered negotiation dates.
“The men and women of the ILWU have voted to reject the profitable grain exporters’ concessionary demands, but we remain committed to reaching a fair agreement that continues our 80-year history of making these export terminals successful,” Rich Austin, co-chairman of the union negotiating committee, said.
Roughly 3,000 longshoremen were eligible to vote on the contract offer and 93.8 percent rejected it, a union spokeswoman said. The last collective bargaining agreement expired Sept. 30. More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports and nearly half of U.S. wheat exports move through grain terminals on the Willamette River and Puget Sound. The dispute involves six of those terminals that operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
• Japan-based Marubeni Corp. (Columbia Grain in Portland).
• Japan-based Mitsui & Co. (United Grain in Vancouver, Wash.).
• Netherlands-based Louis Dreyfus Commodities (grain elevators in Seattle and Portland).
• United States-based Cargill and CHS Inc.
Cargill did not sign a letter addressed last week to the union, raising questions about its continuing participation in the association. A Cargill spokesman Monday had no comment on the situation. Cargill’s Temco subsidiary operates Tacoma’s Schuster Parkway grain terminal as well as terminals in Portland and Kalama. The Kalama terminal is covered by a separate agreement with the union.
Salary and benefits have not been a sticking point during negotiations. Rather, the owners want to implement workplace rules – or management rights – they consider more advantageous.
Northwest grain terminals, based in Longview and Kalama, operate under separate agreements with the ILWU. The Longview terminal is operated by EGT. Temco operates the Kalama terminal.
Tacoma Longshore Union Local 23 President Scott Mason said the union wants to return to the bargaining table, not go on strike. The Temco grain terminal in Tacoma is the largest single employer of Local 23 members.
Concessions requested by management would allow employers to go to court to end any work stoppages immediately and to recover damages. Longshoremen would also lose some perks and grievance procedures.
“The grain exporters have not bargained in good faith, instead rejecting every effort by the union to reach a compromised settlement,” said Leal Sundet, an ILWU coast committeeman. “In essence, their ‘last and final’ offer was not fundamentally different than that originally presented in September.”
If a lockout occurs, the Coast Guard expects longshoremen to protest in boats on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The agency has established a safety zone around all inbound and outbound grain-shipment vessels at the Columbia Grain and United Grain terminals. The terminal association has brought tugboats operated by non-union personnel to the Columbia River from California to escort grain vessels to the terminals if the union strikes.Steven Dubois of The Associated Press and staff writer John Gillie contributed to this report.