Friday, September 16, 2011

"ILWU members clubbed and sprayed with pepper gas"

ILWU longshoremen in Wash.
resist union busting at terminal

LONGVIEW, Wash.—Some 400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union blocked a grain train from entering the new export terminal at the port here for four hours September 7. The terminal’s owner, EGT Development Corp., refuses to honor an agreement by the Port of Longview to hire ILWU labor.

The unionists allowed the train to pass, reported the Longview Daily News, after cops formed a line “donning riot helmets and brandishing rifles with rubber bullets.” ILWU members were clubbed and sprayed with pepper gas, the paper said. Sixteen were arrested.

“On September 7 we were having a peaceful protest at the port when the police attacked ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. Three policemen threw him to the ground,” Dan Coffman, ILWU Local 21 president, told the Militant. “Our union had to respond to protect our international president.

“What happened afterwards, as far as we are concerned, was a situation incited by the cops. They wore riot gear. They had helmets and batons and shotguns with rubber bullets and Tasers. Eight of our brothers were hit with tear gas.”

More than 1,000 members of the ILWU in Washington did not report for work the next day, closing ports in Seattle, Tacoma, Anacortes, and Everett.

That day, September 8, hundreds of ILWU members returned to the Port of Longview. According to the Seattle Times, Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha alleged the unionists damaged property and dumped grain as they “held six guards captive.”

By the end of September 8 a total of 19 longshoremen had been arrested for misdemeanor criminal trespass.

EGT has taken great pains to snub the port’s agreement with the ILWU and evade a union contract. According to The Stand, a labor blog here in Washington, EGT built the Longview terminal using workers paid below union wages. Then, when the terminal opened, it hired only nonunion workers. More than 1,000 ILWU members and supporters protested the union-busting move outside EGT headquarters in Portland, Ore., June 3.

In response, EGT hired subcontractor General Construction, which employed members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701. The local does not have a collective bargaining agreement with EGT.

“Local 701 and General Construction have enjoyed a good working relationship for over 90 years,” says an Operating Engineers Local 701 statement. “General Construction has no agreements with ILWU anywhere.”

According to the Seattle Times, the Port of Longview leased land to EGT with the understanding that the use of ILWU labor would continue under the 30-year-agreement the union has with the port. EGT did not return calls from the Militant.

Coffman said EGT is attempting to roll back many gains in working conditions the ILWU has won at the Port of Longview. The port “will use 30 to 40 percent less staffing,” he said. “They will run 12-hour shifts.

“EGT tried to get the working agreement with the ILWU removed from the lease in their negotiations with the Port of Longview,” said Coffman. “They didn’t want to pay overtime after eight hours, the industry standard. They complained about ILWU pensions. Yet they made $2.5 billion in profit in 2010.”

The National Labor Relations Board has weighed in on the side of the EGT bosses. The NLRB filed a complaint against the ILWU in July when the union tried to block another trainload of grain. The NLRB claimed the protesters “physically assaulted EGT employees,” damaged property, and trespassed. A federal judge has ordered the union to move further away from the terminal entrance.

An ILWU open letter to members of Operating Engineers Local 701 noted that the ILWU honored the local’s picket lines in 2006 in a strike in Portland. “Today a multinational corporation called EGT Development is trying to use Local 701 to undermine the ILWU,” the letter said. “It’s not worth it to sell your union’s credibility and support from other unions forever just for a handful of jobs today. Remember solidarity goes both ways! … An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Local 701 replied that both “701 and the ILWU are members of the National AFL-CIO where issues of jurisdiction and union to union disputes should be privately resolved… . Our international representatives have filed charges against the ILWU seeking damages for defamation … before other trade unions and the public.”

Betsy Shedd, a heavy equipment operator and a member of Operating Engineers Local 302 in Seattle, told the Militant that the economic crisis and competition for jobs are at the root of the dispute at the port. “Not all Operating Engineers members are willing to form an alliance with multinational companies in the race to the bottom,” she said.

A team of Militant reporters went door to door in a largely working-class neighborhood of Longview September 10 and got a mix of opinions.

“I think the company needs to honor pre-existing agreements with the union,” said college student Tyler Stockton.

Nicholas Campbell recently lost both his job as a motel manager and his housing there when the bank foreclosed on the motel. “The government is going to have to step in because the unions will never settle this,” he said. “For sure the company lied to the union. But I also feel like the security guards at the port, which are not very well paid, got caught in the middle of the union protest actions.”

Susan Wood said the company she works for as a manager used to ship products out of the Longview Port. “Not now—we don’t want to cross picket lines. I don’t think the workers should lose their jobs,” she said. “But I don’t agree with the way they are handling their protests.”

Linda Falk, a retired custodian, said she strongly supports the ILWU workers. “The company shouldn’t bring in other people. EGT lied to them.”

Clay Dennison and John Naubert contributed to this article.

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