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Attempt to Restart Longshore Talks Sputters to a Halt

by Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press, March 25, 2013

An attempt to resume negotiations in a labor dispute between longshoremen and several Northwest grain handlers has failed, according to both camps.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union met with the grain exporters on March 22 for the first time in several months to discuss a labor contract.

Both groups say the talks broke down, each pointing to other labor contracts they claim are more favorable than current proposals.

The grain handlers -- United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus -- say the ILWU refuses to offer similar terms that it established in a labor contract with the EGT terminal in Longview, Wash.

Last year, the union signed a contract with EGT after a dispute in which longshoremen dumped grain and vandalized rail cars, causing damages a federal judge estimated to be $300,000.

The agreement contains work rules that put EGT at a cost advantage to other handlers, but the union's most recent offer was even less beneficial than a proposal from last December, said Pat McCormick, spokesman for the companies.

"It was a step backward from where the conversation has been," McCormick said.

The ILWU, on the other hand, said the grain handlers have refused to even consider a deal recently reached between the union and TEMCO for its export terminals in Portland and Tacoma.

"It's pure greed that's stopping these profitable foreign grain merchants from reaching a win-win agreement with workers as their American counterpart TEMCO has done," said Robert McEllrath, president of ILWU, in a statement.

The grain handlers' previous contract with the union expired last September, and the companies unilaterally imposed contract conditions opposed by longshoremen last December.

Since then, the United Grain terminal in Vancouver, Wash., has locked out longshoremen over allegations of $100,000 worth sabotage to equipment.

That facility continues to operate at normal capacity, run by managers and non-union employees, and there haven't been disruptions at the other terminals affected by the labor dispute, said McCormick.

"We don't know what the union has planned, but we see nothing at this point as changing the current operations at the terminals," he said.

Mateusz Perkowski
Attempt to Restart Longshore Talks Sputters to a Halt
Capital Press, March 25, 2013

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