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Port Dispute Worries Wheat Industry

by Steve Brown
Capital Press, September 10, 2011

A Cowlitz County Sheriff grabs a union worker by the throat as police move in on several hundred union workers blocking a grain train in Longview, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011 With the Northwest wheat harvest in high gear, a labor dispute at the new grain terminal at Longview, Wash., takes on added urgency, industry officials say.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union stormed a guard house Thursday because another union's members were working at the port. Other ILWU members walked off the job at four Washington state ports in solidarity.

Tom Mick, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said, "We've got a big crop coming up, and 85 percent of our crop is exported. If we lose our reputation as a reliable supplier, we could lose millions and millions of dollars."

Most of the wheat from Washington growers goes out through the ports of Portland and Kalama, communications director Scott Yates said.

The longshoremen are protesting the decision by EGT LLC to use workers who belong to a different union, the Portland-based Operating Engineers Local 701.

"We never agreed to use ILWU labor," Larry Clarke, EGT's chief executive officer, said at a grain shippers' conference in August.

"This is a new wrinkle -- union against union -- and they're taking it out on the terminal," Mick said.

His commission is not involved in the dispute, he said. "We just have to sit back and hope for the best."

After Thursday's incident at the Longview port that saw hundreds of workers storm the facility, detain guards, dump grain and damage facilities, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton issued a preliminary injunction to restrict union activity, saying there was no defense for the aggressive tactics.

Leighton said the ILWU clearly ignored a temporary restraining order he issued last week with similar limits. He scheduled a hearing for Sept. 15 to determine whether the union should be held in civil contempt.

Six guards were trapped for a couple of hours after at least 500 longshoremen broke down gates about 4:30 a.m. Thursday and smashed windows in the guard shack, Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha said. He initially referred to the guards as "hostages," but later retracted that after the guards clarified no one had threatened them.

"The guards absolutely could not get out," Duscha said. "They feared for their lives because of the size of the crowd and the hostility of the crowd."

Steve Brown
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Port Dispute Worries Wheat Industry
Capital Press, September 10, 2011

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