Northwest Grain Terminal Managers Prepare
by Richard Read
With a contract expiring in five days, managers of Northwest grain terminals are preparing for a showdown with longshoremen that could far eclipse this summer's turmoil at the Port of Portland.
Half of the nation's wheat exports flow through Portland and Puget Sound ports. To keep shipments moving, managers of four Portland-area terminals and two near Seattle are hiring security forces and making arrangements with nonunion labor in anticipation of locking out striking longshoremen, according to the Columbia River Steamship Operators Association and other sources.
"I'd anticipate nothing will move with union workers," if negotiators fail to agree, said Jim Townley, the association's executive director.
Longshoremen won't talk, but a leaked memo reveals dissension in their ranks.
Neither side will say how the talks are going, but with the current contract expiring Sunday, pressure is building. Even so, judging by the issues, the two sides could be far apart.
Terminal operators want to model the next contract on one struck earlier this year at Export Grain Terminal in Longview, Wash., that cut costs and boosted efficiency at the expense of longshoremen's working conditions. That agreement came only after weeks of protests in which demonstrators stormed the terminal, assaulted a guard, damaged rail cars and spilled grain.
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