Longshoremen storm Longview port, hold guards hostage, dump grain



LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — Hundreds of Longshore workers stormed the Port of Longview, overpowered security guards, damaged rail cars and dumped grain at the center of a labor dispute that has spread to Seattle and Tacoma ports, officials said Thursday.

Six guards were detained for a couple of hours after 500 or more Longshoremen broke down gates about 4:30 a.m. and smashed windows in the guard shack, said Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha.

No one was hurt, and nobody has been arrested. Most of the protesters returned to their union hall after cutting brake lines and spilling grain from car at the EGT terminal, he said.

A court hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Tacoma, in which a judge is expected to consider alleged violations by the union of a previous restraining order.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union believes it has the right to work at the facility, but the company has hired a contractor that’s staffing a workforce of other union laborers.

In Seattle and Tacoma, a wildcat strike shut down both ports after hundreds of Longshore workers failed to show up for work on Thursday.

There’s been no formal action called by officials at union headquarters or at the local level, said ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees from union headquarters in San Francisco.

“It appears the members have taken action on their own,” Merrilees said.

He had not seen any statements by the local workers about why they didn’t show up for work in Seattle and Tacoma, but a connection with the activities in Longview was likely.

One possible factor in the wildcat strike was a photograph circulating on the Internet of ILWU President Bob McElrath in police custody in Longview, Merrilees said.

“I think in the minds of many members that may have been a motivating factor,” he said.

Port of Seattle spokeswoman Charla Skaggs said work was not happening at the port’s shipping terminals on Thursday. The terminals are leased to operators who deal directly with Longshore workers, she added.

The protesters in Longview have portrayed themselves as being on the front line in the struggle for jobs and benefits among American workers in an economic downturn. But while union strife has flared up around the country — most notably in Wisconsin — the aggressive tactics seen in Longview have been a rarity in recent labor disputes.

Thursday’s violence at Longview was first reported by Kelso radio station KLOG.

Police from several agencies in southwest Washington, the Washington State Patrol and Burlington Northern Santa Fe responded to the violence to secure the scene that followed a demonstration Wednesday.

“We’re not surprised,” Duscha said. “A lot of the protesters were telling us this in only the start.”

One sergeant was threatened with baseball bats and retreated, Duscha said. “One officer with hundreds of Longshoremen? He used the better part of discretion.”

The train was the first grain shipment to arrive at Longview. It arrived Wednesday night after police arrested 19 demonstrators who tried to block the tracks. They were led by ILWU International President Robert McEllrath, who said they would return.

The blockade appeared to defy a federal restraining order issued last week against the union after it was accused of assaults and death threats.

EGT chief executive Larry Clarke said it was unfortunate that law enforcement needed to make arrests.