Longshore workers say they don't want to strike

They seek to extend talks with grain terminal owners past Wednesday deadline

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Updated: November 26, 2012, 5:23 PM

 

Longshore workers said Monday they don’t want to strike at grain terminals in the Northwest, and want to continue contract talks with terminal owners beyond a Wednesday deadline.

An impasse in the federally mediated talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association could result in a strike at six terminals shipping wheat, corn, and soybeans to Asia.

Union spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said that they have proposed additional dates for talks to the association, which represents the owners of six grain terminals along the Columbia River and Puget Sound in contract talks.

The union says the earliest members could vote on the latest offer would be Dec. 21-22.

Terminal owners had no immediate response.

“The union is motivated to keep the grain flowing as we have done nonstop for the past 80 years,” Sargent said in a statement. “We believe that additional negotiating would be fruitful and have proposed additional dates to the multinational owners of the grain terminals.”

The contract ran out in September. Terminal owners made what they called a last best offer Nov. 16, and set a Wednesday deadline, at which point they reserved the right to implement it.

Association spokesman Pat McCormack said the talks are focused on differences over work rules, not pay or benefits.

The region’s nine grain terminals handle wheat, soybeans and corn from the Northwest and the Dakotas that is headed primarily for Asia. The shipments amount to about a quarter of U.S. grain exports. The contract talks affect six of those terminals. Three are in Portland and three in Washington, at Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma.

Any interruption in handling cargo would disrupt Asian markets for U.S. grain and overwhelm storage facilities in the U.S., the association said in a statement.

Top markets for wheat shipped from the Northwest are Japan, the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics cited by the association. Nearly all the soybeans go to China. Yellow corn goes to Korea, Japan and China.

Over the weekend, a strike by Port of Portland security guards was averted after the port and another branch of the ILWU reached a tentative agreement.