Probe of sabotage allegation at port complete

Prosecutor will decide whether to charge official with longshore union

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Vancouver police have completed their investigation into allegations that an official with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union maliciously caused $300,000 worth of damage to United Grain Corp. equipment at the company's export terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

The department has forwarded its investigative information to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's office for review, according to police department spokeswoman Kim Kapp. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeff McCarty said Monday that he received the report on Friday and estimated it would take him a week or two to review the evidence and determine whether to file charges.

Detectives began investigating after the company claimed sabotage by ILWU official Todd Walker and froze out 44 union dockworkers on Feb. 27. The union has denied any wrongdoing on the part of any of its members.

Since the lockout, picketers have stood outside the entrance to the Port of Vancouver holding signs. Union pickets also have stood vigil outside the Riverview Tower in downtown Vancouver, where United Grain Corp. has an office.

Meanwhile, the ILWU has filed an unfair labor practice charge against United Grain, which the National Labor Relations Board is investigating.

The strife follows a contract dispute between United Grain Corp. and the longshore union over numerous issues of working conditions and job security for union employees. The current contract, which union members voted overwhelmingly to reject, took effect in December.

The contract allows the company to hire fewer employees to load ships; provides flexibility to use elevator employees to assist in ship-loading; and increases management discretion in hiring and staffing decisions. It also allows United Grain to use nonunion employees for some jobs union employees are unwilling to work or refuse to work, according to the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which includes United Grain and other terminal operators.

The longshore union says the contract imposes more than 750 concessions from workers that would limit the union's ability to represent the interests of workers, including maintaining fair workplace standards and family-wage jobs.

Kapp said that officers have been called regularly to the port, where union members have picketed since the lockout began, sometimes getting dispatched to the port several times a day. She said each instance is similar: workers are trying to drive into the port and are delayed or harassed by the picketers.

So far, none of these incidents have risen to the level of an arrest or citation and police respond to calm a situation down or to escort someone onto the property, Kapp said. Most of these incidents are recorded as information reports — a way for police to document their contact and actions taken.

"Our role has been to make sure that people are able to get in and out (of the port) and nobody gets run over," Kapp said. "We make sure there are no injuries to the picketers and that also commerce can still take place."