Protest Planned for First Ship
by Erik Olson
The U.S. Coast Guard will escort the first ship coming to the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview this month, and the Occupy movement and local labor groups say they are planning to greet the vessel with a massive protest.
EGT officials say they have not scheduled a date for the ship's arrival. The freighter is expected to haul thousands of tons of grain to Asia, but opposition groups are already marshaling their forces to support the lengthy protest by union dock workers at the grain terminal.
"We just want to swell the population of the city to show there are people behind us," said Jeff Washburn, president of the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Central Labor Council, which passed a resolution calling for a protest this week.
He added that the labor council plans no attempt to stop the ship, a sentiment echoed in a similar call for protest by leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
However, the Occupy movement it taking a more aggressive stance, calling for members nationwide to gather outside Port of Longview gates and thwart efforts to load the ship, said Paul Nipper, an organizer for Occupy Longview. The group shut down the ports coastwide, including Longview, Dec. 8.
The Coast Guard will deploy one or two vessels to escort the grain ship up the Columbia River, with more on call if necessary, said Lt. Lucas Elder, a spokesman for Coast Guard's Portland-based marine safety unit. Other law-enforcement agencies will also be present, he said.
Small boat captains who refuse to get out of the way of the ship could face hefty civil penalties, Elder said.
"The Coast Guard is definitely going to be involved in making sure the port is safe."
A successful ship delivery would be a major step forward for EGT in its effort to bring the $200 million terminal online. The company bills the terminal as the most efficient grain dock on the West Coast. The terminal has received six rail deliveries of grain from the Midwest but can hold approximately twice that amount, according to Matthew Beck, an EGT spokesman.
The ILWU has protested the terminal since the summer, arguing that EGT's lease agreement with the Port of Longview requires the company to hire Local 21 members to work inside the terminal. EGT officials disagree and instead hired a Federal Way-based contractor who employ union operating engineers from Oregon and Southwest Washington.
"We expect the ILWU will respect the ongoing legal process, which includes an injunction prohibiting them from blocking any ingress or egress to the facility in Longview," EGT President Larry Clarke said in a written statement Friday.
The dispute is headed for trial in federal court in March.
Mark Holliday, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, said the union supports the Occupy movement but feels its message has been co-opted by the ILWU.
Officially, ILWU leaders have distanced themselves from Occupy Movement calls to block port commerce, fearing further heavy fines for violating a federal order barring the blocking of commerce at the port. A federal judge has already fined the ILWU more than $300,000 for blocking incoming grain trains Sept. 7 and for damages at the terminal when hundreds of people broke in and spilled grain during an early morning raid Sept. 8.
A dozen more were arrested Sept. 21 for sitting on the train tracks to block an incoming train. Since then, ILWU members have protested two other trains but made no effort to block passage.
In a letter posted on the ILWU website, International President Robert McEllrath warned rank-and-file members to keep the protest of the incoming grain ship peaceful.
"Please take extreme caution when dealing with supporters of non-ILWU sanctioned calls to action relative to EGT. Everything is at stake for the community of Longview and our members - including personal freedom. We welcome outside support for our efforts against EGT but must make effective use of collective power," McEllrath wrote.
Individual union members have shown support for the Occupy cause. On Friday night, Occupy members held a planning meeting in downtown Seattle to organize the ship protest that included representatives from ILWU Local 21 as guest speakers.
Also, a handful of union members delivered refreshments to Occupy protesters during the Dec. 8 port shutdown.
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