Inflatable rat joins Longshore picket line

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Local members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, locked out by United Grain Corp. at the Port of Vancouver for more than five months, have introduced a new prop in their battle over a new contract with the company: a 12-foot-tall rat. In place for about two weeks, the sharp-toothed inflatable rodent overlooks the east gate at the port where union dockworkers continue to picket.

Jennifer Sargent, spokeswoman for the ILWU, issued a statement Thursday: "By taking public tax dollars and giving as little as possible back to the local community, Mitsui-United Grain" — a reference to the company's Tokyo-based parent Mitsui & Co. — "has attracted a greed-sniffing rat. Mitsui should end its lockout and put local union workers back to work, and the rat will lose interest and go away."

In a phone interview Thursday, Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which includes United Grain, said "theatrics" aren't going to settle the dispute.