Saturday, July 16, 2011

Port protest leads to trespassing citations for dozens of union longshoremen

By Erik Olson and Tony Lystra / The Daily News Monday, July 11, 2011

About 100 union dock workers, including union leaders, were arrested
Monday afternoon after they tore down a chain-link gate and protested
inside the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview.

In one of the boldest labor demonstrations in recent memory, members of
the Longview-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21
stormed the terminal to protest EGT's use of non-union labor to handle
grain in the testing phase of the new $200 million facility. Authorities
said the gate appeared to have been pulled down with a pickup, and
protesters blocked EGT employees from working in the terminal.

About 20 law enforcement vehicles swarmed to the east end of the port just
after 3 p.m. Sheriff's deputies and other officers from the Longview and
Kelso police departments moved freely among the protesters, who were
sometimes loud, but not violent.

"By far this is the most intense labor event that I can remember," said
Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, who stood at the crowd's center at one
point discussing the situation with the union's leadership.

Tensions have been rising between EGT executives and ILWU since contract
talks broke down about three months ago. The company's officials have said
they plan to open the terminal this summer with about 50 workers, likely

"We are going to fight for our jobs in our jurisdiction. We have worked
this dock for 70 years, and to have a big, rich corporation come in and
say, ‘We don't want you,' is a problem," Dan Coffman, Local 21 president,
said Monday as he waited for police to issue him a citation.

"We're all together. We're all going to jail as a union."

Law enforcement officers took the protesters aside one by one, issued them
citations for second-degree trespassing, photographed them, handcuffed
them and loaded them into patrol cars and a corrections department van.
Nelson said the protesters were taken to the Cowlitz County fairgrounds
and released. The idea, he said, was simply to get them away from the

Additional charges may be filed against those who pulled down the fence if
they can be identified, Nelson said.

EGT is owned by St. Louis-based Bunge North America, Japan-based Itochu
Corp. and Korean shipper Pan Ocean STX. Later this summer, officials from
the ILWU's San Francisco-based headquarters plan to meet with Itochu and
Pan Ocean officials in Asia.

Monday's protest, which included ILWU leaders from Portland and Vancouver,
was the latest of four large-scale demonstrations the ILWU has held in the
last two months. On June 3, more than 1,000 ILWU supporters from
Washington to California rallied outside EGT's headquarters in downtown

Union officials have pinpointed the EGT grain terminal as a major
battleground along the West Coast. If EGT succeeds in operating the
terminal with non-union labor, ILWU officials say they fear other grain
companies would follow suit.

This was the first time that the ILWU, one of the region's most powerful
labor unions, is known to have resorted to trespassing and damaging EGT's
property, Nelson said.

EGT officials said Monday they will protect their workers, and they
haven't finished hiring.

"The safety of our employees and service providers is our top priority.
And actions by any group that threaten their safety will not be
tolerated," Larry Clarke, EGT's president and CEO, said in a written

After pulling down the gate, the protesters first gathered inside a large
building, then moved to a fenced-off area just outside, Nelson said.
Nelson said he offered to let the protesters go without arrests if they
agreed to walk away peacefully.

"They chose to stay," Nelson said. "Everybody's trying to make a statement

At around 4 p.m., a deputy announced over a loudspeaker that everyone on
EGT's property was under arrest for second-degree trespassing, a
misdemeanor. The protesters broke out in shouts of "ILWU! ILWU!"

Union men scaled two grain cars behind the fence, waving ILWU signs and
chanting. At one point, the protesters briefly locked arms.

Asked if he worried the situation between the longshoremen and the grain
terminal could escalate this summer, Nelson said, "In a word, yes."

Ken O'Hollaren, director of the Port of Longview, said port officials were
discussing Monday whether they need to beef up security around the site.
The damaged fence belongs to EGT, which is leasing the 38-acre site from
the port, he said.

"It's an unfortunate turn of events here. We're still very hopeful that a
resolution can be found. This is not the kind of thing that we hope to see
or condone," O'Hollaren said.

Most of the protesters were ILWU members, and leaders of area woodworkers'
and construction trade unions also showed up outside the fence to show
their support.

EGT "isn't a good neighbor. They're not going to be a good neighbor," said
Dave Myers, president of the Longview Kelso Building Trades Council.

Union officials say EGT has violated their contract with the port, which
stipulates that all longshore work on port property must be conducted with
Local 21 labor.

In January, EGT sued the port in federal court, arguing that the company
was not bound by the port's contract with ILWU local 21. EGT attorneys
said union labor would increase their annual costs of operating the
elevator by $1 million. Coffman said the added labor costs are only a
fraction of EGT's total costs.

Nelson, the sheriff, said he understood what the union was trying to
accomplish even though he didn't agree with its tactics Monday.

"Bless their hearts," Nelson said. "These are our neighbors too. These are
our folks. This is our community."

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