NLRB Seeks Order to End 'Aggressive'
by Erik Olson
Acccusing the local longshore union of unfair labor practices, a federal board is seeking an order to end "aggressive" picketing at the Port of Longview and allow trains to make deliveries to the new EGT grain export terminal.
If the National Labor Relations Board complaint is upheld, it could strike a huge blow against the union and allow EGT to end a eight-month labor dispute over the $200 million facility, which has yet to export its first bushel.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe stopped all rail shipments to EGT on July 14 for safety reasons during the labor dispute, and the NLRB is asking the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to write a letter to the railroad stating its members won't block another shipment.
Union officials in the ILWU's San Francisco headquarters vowed Tuesday to fight the NLRB, blasting the accuracy of the allegations and blaming EGT for inciting violence at the terminal gates. The NLRB complaint will be heard by an administrative law judge Oct. 11 in Portland. The NLRB became involved as a result of complaints filed by EGT in July and August.
ILWU members have been arguing their contract with the Port of Longview gives them jurisdiction to work the terminal. At least 100 ILWU picketers have been arrested in multiple protests. The complaint names both Longview-based Local 21 and Vancouver-based Local 4.
The NLRB complaints fall into three basic categories and hinge on the fact that the ILWU and EGT broke off contract talks in January and never signed a formal agreement, according to Richard Ahearn, NLRB regional director in Seattle and author of the complaint. Essentially, the NLRB is saying the union has no dispute with EGT and therefore has no right to impede in the company's business.
In fact, the NLRB states that the union's beef is not with EGT but with its union subcontractor, General Construction Co. ILWU officials dispute this fact, arguing that EGT was the one who broke off contract talks, leading to the dispute in January.
"The NLRB is creating the fiction that Local 21's labor dispute is somehow with General Construction and not with EGT. The documented facts at trial will prove the NLRB to be dead wrong about this," said Leal Sundet, the ILWU's San Francisco-based coastal committeeman, in a written statement.
The NLRB allegations state:
The NLRB is the federal agency that administers the National Labor Relations Act, which governs relations between companies and employees. The Longview case is unusual for the NLRB, Ahearn said.
"In recent past, this kind of circumstance has not arisen often. It's not that common or frequent," he said Tuesday. He also declined to discuss how the board would enforce alleged infractions of the Labor Relations Act.
Despite the setback, the ILWU has received two endorsements from labor groups during the dispute. The Oregon AFL-CIO, the state's largest union federation, passed a resolution in July condemning the operators' union for taking the jobs at EGT. The Washington State Labor Council passed a similar resolution, though both were largely symbolic.
In a written statement, EGT CEO Larry Clarke praised the NLRB's action Monday.
"The sooner the ILWU stops threatening local workers and blocking interstate commerce, the sooner we can finish bringing the facility online to provide family-wage union jobs shipping grain from the Pacific Northwest and America's heartland to markets in Asia," Clarke said.
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