Union conflict flares again at Longview grain terminal
Originally published September 21, 2011 at 1:04 p.m., updated September 21, 2011 at 8 p.m.
LONGVIEW — Longshoremen returned to the railroad tracks near a Columbia River grain terminal with union members’ wives and mothers Wednesday, blocking a shipment and facing more arrests in their battle for jobs.
Two union officers and about 10 of the women were detained, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 President Dan Coffman said in a statement. Coffman was among those involved despite a judge’s repeated orders that the union not block entrance to the site.
Law enforcement officers brought a massive force to various parts of the railroad tracks, including two tactical vehicles, canine units and about a dozen personnel in full riot gear. At least two protesters were treated after being hit with pepper spray, and the train eventually made its way into the EGT Development facility.
Union leaders decried the law enforcement activity, saying it amounted to a private security force paid for by taxpayers.
“Longview Longshoremen stood down from their jobs for 30 minutes in silence as a unit train rolled into EGT under the escort of police paid for by the very workers in the community of Cowlitz County that the company is undermining and exploiting,” Leal Sundet, ILWU Coast Committeeman, said in a statement.
The actions appeared to defy the National Labor Relations Board and the orders of a federal judge who has already held the union in contempt and is considering fines for previous actions.
The ILWU believes its members have the right to work at the new $200 million terminal. EGT has hired another firm that is staffing with workers from a different union, Oregon-based Operating Engineers Local 701.
EGT hopes to establish the terminal on the Columbia River as a top West Coast location for shipping grain to growing markets in Asia.
“This grain delivery is an important step toward completing the facility’s testing phase and bringing it online. Nevertheless, the ILWU’s actions are in direct defiance of the law and the ruling of a federal judge,” EGT CEO Larry Clarke said in a statement.
About 200 people have been arrested in demonstrations this summer at the terminal. In the largest a couple weeks ago, several hundred blocked a train shipment in Vancouver and Longview. That demonstration also led to a clash with authorities, and an attempt by police to arrest the union’s leader was blocked when the huge crowd surged forward.
Authorities say hundreds returned to the site overnight, stormed the terminal, held security guards and damaged rail cars.
“We appreciate the continuing efforts of local law enforcement to ensure the safety of workers and businesses at the port and allow commerce to proceed,” Clarke said.
Wednesday’s train hauled 107 cars of wheat from Cheney, BNSF Railway said. It was escorted by BNSF security, said spokesman Gus Melonas.
Two groups totaling about 50 people blocked the tracks temporarily at Longview, Melonas said. After the train arrived, its crew was escorted by authorities for their safety.
Police were on guard at Vancouver railroad crossings Wednesday morning as a BNSF Railway train headed through town on its way to Longview.
Police heard there might be demonstrators and wanted to make sure things went smoothly, said Vancouver Police Sgt. T. Kim, who was manning the railroad crossing on West Eighth Street just before 8 a.m. Tuesday.
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas confirmed there were no incidents or trespassers while the train passed through Vancouver.
The railroad worked with local law enforcement agencies to monitor the train along its route from Cheney, southwest of Spokane, through the Columbia River Gorge and up to Longview, he said.
“We were certainly prepared in the event that any action was taken along the routes,” Melonas said. “Safety is our number one priority.”
About 200 union members rallied on railroad tracks in Vancouver on Sept. 7, temporarily blocking a train headed to the grain terminal from moving north.
“We will continue to monitor ongoing operations in the future,” Melonas said.
Clark County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Schanaker said no local crossings were blocked on Wednesday.
— Paul Suarez