Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wildcat Action in the Pacific Northwest

I fell down on the job on Labor Day, I know. But here's some hot labor news from my part of the world. A corporate consortium, EGT Development, has just opened a new grain terminal in Longview, Washington-- with the express intent of employing nonunion labor to staff it, despite their having signed a contract with the port requiring they use union labor. They then said they would employ workers form a union that has never done the port work that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union always does on the West Coast. (Every other grain terminal on the West Coast is operated by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.) The actions taken by workers to prevent EGT from smashing the union began in early July and have been escalating. Early this morning, at 5 a.m., 500 people broke down the terminal's gates, prevented security guards from interfering, cut the brake lines of the train they attempted to block yesterday from leaving Portland, and dumped the train's load of grain onto the tracks.  A local newspaper reports (citing the AP):
In Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Anacortes, hundreds of Longshore workers failed to show up or walked off the job Thursday in apparent solidarity with the Longview activists, halting work at those ports. Union leaders said they had not called for any such actions.

"It appears the members have taken action on their own," said ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees from union headquarters in San Francisco.

He said some workers maight have been motivated by a photograph circulating on the Internet of ILWU President Bob McElrath in police custody in Longview. Police arrested 19 protesters as they blocked railroad tracks on Wednesday night.

The protesters in Longview have portrayed themselves as being on the front line in the struggle for jobs and benefits among American workers in an economic downturn. But while union strife has flared up around the country _ most notably in Wisconsin _ the aggressive tactics seen in Longview have been a rarity in recent labor disputes.

Labor activists insist that after receiving tax breaks and promising to create well-paying jobs at the new $200 million terminal, EGT initially tried to staff the terminal with nonunion workers. Following a series of protests by the Longshore workers this year, the company announced it would hire a contractor staffed by workers from a different union.
Evan Rohar and Jane Slaughter conclude their report for Labor Notes:
LWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said, “There is no formal action at either the local or International level, but large numbers of individuals appear to have taken action on their own.” He stressed that no arrests were made at this morning’s action and called the AP’s report of security guards taken hostage “ridiculous.”

“When corporations and the government turn their backs on working families,” Merrilees said, “it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see people step forward and try to fight back.”

Ports in Tacoma and Seattle are closed today, though the international said no job action has been called. One worker said work would resume at 3 a.m. Friday—unless it doesn’t.

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