Updated: Port of Vancouver designates area for protests, warns union and United Grain to follow guidelines

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

As speculation runs high over when United Grain Corp. will bring in replacement workers as part of its lockout of union dockworkers, the Port of Vancouver has a message for both parties: Whatever happens must occur only at a key eastside gate the port set up for United Grain’s use and for the dockworkers to stage protests.

In a Feb. 27 letter, obtained by the Columbian, port Executive Director Todd Coleman outlined the port’s expectations of United Grain and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, saying the port “will only allow picketing or protests on port property in the designated area near Gate 2,” which is in the vicinity of Port Way and Harborside Drive. The letter also says United Grain security “is not allowed outside (the company’s) leasehold and associated rail lines.” It warns both parties the port will contact the police if either the ILWU or the company fail to follow the port’s guidelines.

Meanwhile, Vancouver police are investigating allegations made by United Grain Corp. that a union worker engaged in sabotage at the grain terminal, police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said this morning.

United Grain had ordered its own investigation by a former FBI investigator. The company forwarded its findings to police on Thursday, and a patrol officer is examining the claim. No further information was available.

The port’s Wednesday letter illustrates the planning the port has conducted to prepare for a lockout or strike, and to ensure other parts of the port stay open for business. It comes as United Grain has locked out dockworkers, who’ve responded with picket lines. It’s unclear when the company will bring in replacement workers or whether those nonunion workers will be permanent. Likewise, it’s unclear if the lockout, which ensued Wednesday, will lead both parties back to the bargaining table.

The port’s main entrance, which saw picket lines Wednesday, is now clear after the port indicated it wanted any actions by dockworkers and United Grain to occur only at Gate 2, according to Theresa Wagner, the port’s communications director.

Meanwhile, some dockworkers — under a separate contract with the Pacific Maritime Association — have returned to work at the port, Wagner said. That means other operations are up and running again, including the unloading of some 1,800 Subaru vehicles that had been left stuck on a ship when dockworkers walked off the job in support of protests against United Grain. Work at the port is stopped only at United Grain's Terminal 2 grain elevator, Wagner said, where the standoff between the ILWU and United Grain continues.

Wagner said the ILWU and United Grain are both important to the port, and the port hopes both parties will work out a deal. “But we really need the rest of the port to work in the meantime,” she said. The port’s main goal is to keep people and property safe, and to ensure the port stays open for industrial activity, Wagner said.

In the letter Coleman sent to the ILWU’s Local 4 in Vancouver and United Grain, the port warns that if it finds picketers on property other than in the vicinity of Gate 2 it will ask them to leave. If they don’t, they’ll be viewed as trespassers and the port “will call on the Vancouver Police Department” to have people removed. The port also warns United Grain that “any contracted security found on any other port property will be asked to leave ...” If they refuse, the port will call on police and have them removed.

The port also says it expects that all parties “will refrain from interfering with vessels berthed at port facilities.”

In the letter, Coleman says the port's focus "remains the same as it is any other day: maintaining safety for all, protecting property and maintaining operations of all neutral parties."

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com