Longshoremen work despite unpopular contract

Union weighs next move at area grain terminals

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PORTLAND -- Longshoremen at grain terminals in Portland and Vancouver went to work Thursday under the contract terms they soundly rejected last weekend.

The terminal owners implemented the terms of their "last, best and final" offer at 6 a.m. after declaring talks to be at an impasse.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union could have called for a strike. Instead, the employees showed up for work as the union decides its next move. Options other than a strike include accepting management's offer, filing an unfair labor charge or working under the terms while seeking further talks.

An ILWU spokesman, Jennifer Sargent, declined to discuss union strategy.

The last contract expired Sept. 30, and a disagreement over workplace rules has been the obstacle to a new deal. The pro-management terms implemented Thursday eliminate some employee perks and grievance procedures while giving employers more discretion in hiring and staffing decisions. Management, for example, can expand shifts to 12 hours, if needed, and use elevator employees to help load ships.

More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports move through nine grain terminals on the Willamette River and Puget Sound. The dispute initially involved six of those terminals that operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the ILWU: Columbia Grain, based in Portland; United Grain, based in Vancouver; Louis Dreyfus Commodities, which has grain elevators in Portland and Seattle; and Temco, which has elevators in Portland and Tacoma.

Longshore workers at Columbia Grain and United Grain, both Japanese-owned, arrived for work Thursday, and officials from both ports said there were no slowdowns or workplace disruptions.

"Everything seems to be working just fine," said Theresa Wagner, a Port of Vancouver spokeswoman.

The issue was moot for longshoremen at LD Commodities. The company's terminal in Portland, which handles wheat, is not operating this week because of construction to upgrade its elevator near the Steel Bridge. Its Seattle terminal, which handles corn and soybeans, has been idle for months.