To say that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is a militant union would be something of an understatement. Following the deadly 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike (of which the ILWU still commemorates ‘Bloody Thursday‘), the longshoremen’s union (originally part of the International Longshoremen’s Association) has controlled the West Coast ports for nearly 80 years and its militancy continues to this day.
In Washington state the ILWU is embroiled in another militant battle. The issue is whether work done at a new $200 million grain terminal will be done by the ILWU or by non-union labor.
However, there is now another union entering the picture (the Operating Engineers) that may cause this volatile situation to escalate even further.
In 2009, EGT Development broke ground on a $200 million grain terminal–the first large export grain terminal to be built in the U.S. in two decades. [EGT stands for Export Grain Terminal.]
In May, when the ILWU and EGT couldn’t reach an agreement over whether overtime would be paid for working three 12-hour shift and it appeared the 50 jobs at the terminal would go to non-union workers, 150 ILWU and other union members rallied at a Longview intersection.
Dan Coffman, the union’s president, called EGT’s posture “a total disrespect to us.”
In early June, the ILWU gathered 1,000 protesters from as far away as Los Angeles to rally outside EGT’s Portland offices to protest the company’s apparent intention to employ non-union labor for the 50 jobs:
“We have been left out of the loop. It’s total union solidarity to stop corporate greed,” said Dan Coffman, president of local 21.
The stakes in this showdown are huge for organized labor. EGT is challenging one of the most entrenched and powerful unions on the West Coast. All major ports in the region operate on union labor.
On Monday, July 11th, about 100 union dock workers, including union leaders, were arrested after they tore down a chain-link gate and protested inside the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview in Washington.
According to The Daily News:
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.
“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.”
A few days later, on July 14th, hundreds of ILWU protesters crowded onto railroad tracks leading into the EGT terminal and blocked a mile-long train from entering. The train was eventually rerouted and Burlington Northern Santa Fe has indefinitely suspended train traffic to the grain terminal.
Then, on Tuesday, things took an unusual turn when the International Union of Operating Engineers announced that its members would be working at the EGT terminal through a subcontractor.
A statement released by the union attributed the following remarks to union Business Manager Mark Holliday: “Local 701’s members are trained to operate and maintain the EGT facility. Many of those jobs will go to Local 701’s members living in Longview and the surrounding areas.” said Mark Holliday.
Local 701’s announcement now pits one union against another in competition for family-wage jobs at the grain terminal. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has worked at all West Coast grain terminals since 1934, has argued the jobs should go to its Longview-based Local 21 under terms of its contract with the Port of Longview.
With EGT apparently subcontracting the jobs to a unionized contractor, the ILWU may be able to appeal to the AFL-CIO to intervene. In addition, there is a lawsuit that has been filed by EGT against the port to give the company the right to use non-union labor. However, at this point, it appears tensions will only escalate as what had been union against management has now become a union against union battle.