Tentative settlement reached in ILWU, EGT dispute

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and EGT, a multi-national grain exporter, on Monday reached a tentative settlement of a dispute over the union’s member’s right to work at the company’s new, state-of-the-art grain terminal in Longview, Washington.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, who brought the two sides together to negotiate the dispute, announced the tentative settlement but did not provide specific terms of the agreement because talks regarding its details are ongoing.

Nevertheless, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath seemed pleased with the outcome. “This is a win for the ILWU, EGT, and the Longview community,” McEllrath said. “I want to thank Gov. Gregoire for her leadership in working with both parties to find common ground. ILWU has  eight decades of grain export experience in the Northwest, and we look forward to the opportunity to develop a positive working relationship with EGT.”

The settlement announcement came as ILWU and the Occupy movement prepared to blockade a ship loaded with grain that was scheduled to arrive at the EGT terminal later in January or  in the early part of February. The US Coast Guard had said that it would escort the grain ship to the EGT terminal.

The proposed blockade was the most recent in a long series of mobilizations to protect good union jobs that marked this acrimonious dispute between one of the most powerful unions in the US and the multinational grain exporting cartel.

The struggle began after EGT broke off negotiations with ILWU and announced that it planned to operate its new grain terminal at the Port of Longview, Washington without ILWU members. In May about 150 ILWU members conducted an informational picket line at the port protesting the company’s decision.

The Longview Port Authority subsequently sued EGT for violating the terms of its lease at the port, which requires that companies leasing space from the port use ILWU Local 21 members to handle all longshore work.

In June, 1,000 ILWU members protested at EGT headquarters, and in July, union members picketed and temporarily shut down the company’s new terminal.

In September, EGT began testing its terminal operations and prepared to accept grain delivery from a train. ILWU members rallied on the train tracks and temporarily blocked delivery.

A federal judge, the National Labor Relations Board, and local police all tried their hands at tipping the scales in favor of EGT, but union members continued their resistance.

On December 12, Occupy Longview in solidarity with ILWU members picketed the port and shut it down for 24 hours.

Early in January, news got out that EGT would take delivery from a grain ship that was expected to arrive later in the month and that the ship would be protected by armed crews of the US Coast Guard. ILWU and the Occupy movement began to organize a blockade to stop delivery of the Coast Guard protected grain.

Gov. Gregoire and local community leaders were worried about the consequences of such a confrontation, and the governor began working to bring the two sides together to resolve the dispute.

During the struggle that lasted more than seven months more than 100 ILWU members, including McEllrath and ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman, were arrested. Local police even maced and tear gassed union members and their supporters during a demonstration.

Two of those arrested came to trial in December and were acquitted by two separate juries. Others arrested have either settled their case with a plea bargain that resulted in fines and community service or had their charges dropped.

Rick Von Rock, a former union leader at Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging, who planned to join the blockade, told the Longview Daily News that he was happy to hear the news about the tentative settlement. He also said that he admired ILWU members for taking a stand even though it meant sacrifices.

“I hope the reset of the community understands what they went through, not only for their own benefit but on behalf of the whole community,” Von Rock said.

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