KELSO (AP) — About 200 Longshore workers involved in a hostile labor dispute in Washington state gathered at a courthouse on Friday, challenging the sheriff to peacefully arrest anyone in the crowd accused of committing a crime.
“We’re here. If you want us, come and get us,” shouted ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman, looking up at the building. Union members cheered his declaration but largely stood quietly in two long lines.
No law enforcement officers approached the crowd, and nobody was arrested during the demonstration. After about 30 minutes, Coffman led the group away and said he hoped they could live their lives without fear of confrontation from authorities.
But later in the day, authorities arrested ILWU Local 21 Vice President Jake Whiteside, said Grover Laseke, a spokesman for the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office. He was charged with criminal trespass in 2nd degree and obstructing a train in connection with a massive protest that blocked a train in Longview last week.
Union leaders balked at the arrest, which came just after they had offered themselves to authorities. Laseke said the union had not communicated to law enforcement about their plans to visit the courthouse.
“That isn’t the way we’re going to be doing business,” Laseke said. He said officers were going out and making arrests as they would do with any other crime.
The union had complained that authorities have not responded to requests to peacefully coordinate with those charged with crimes related to the protest.
Officials estimate they have made roughly 200 arrests throughout the months-long labor dispute. Many of the charges have been minor — such as for trespassing — but authorities are also investigating a raid last week in which witnesses said Longshore workers stormed a grain terminal, damaged property and overwhelmed security guards.
One of them — 45-year-old Ronald Patrick Stavas of Kelso — has been charged with first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, intimidating a witness and sabotage.
The union had characterized the arrests that have occurred as “abusive.”
Laseke said he would be glad to facilitate a discussion between union leadership and the sheriff about how to bring in those suspected of crimes, but he disputed the suggestion that workers were being unfairly targeted. He also said investigators still have a “pretty good handful of arrests that they want to make.”
ILWU workers believe they have the right to work at a new grain terminal operated by EGT. The company has instead hired another firm that is staffing the site with a different set of union workers.
The aggressive tactics used by union protesters has not only drawn the ire of local law enforcement but also the National Labor Relations Board and a federal judge. The judge found the union in contempt on Thursday and is considering a fine in connection to last week’s protests.